Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bewitched Believers

O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? 2This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Galatians 3:1-3 KJV

(First off, this isn't a "Halloween" post. If you want to read something about the evils of trick or treating you'll have to go somewhere else. And there are a gazillion places on the web to do that.)

Often I've shared while teaching a tidbit of my personal background and church heritage. While my childhood pastors proclaimed salvation by grace there was always the sense in those churches that behind every corner lurked an evil temptation. So there was always a level of distrust when the church ventured beyond the walls of "the church". Be careful out there...if they don't dot their "i's" or cross there "t's" just like us, chances are there's something bad in the mix.

So, we couldn't participate in certain things at school or in entertainment. Square dancing in PE class required us to have a letter from our parents exempting us. Walt Disney movies (while Walt was still in charge) that were always innocent and tasteful were taboo because the price of admission went to foster the "Hollywood lifestyle" of people like Liz Taylor, etc. At least that's what I heard.

It's taken me forty-plus years to recover from legalistic leanings. Yet I have to confess, buried somewhere deep in my soul are the tendencies to revert to a self-righteous position of condemning things not really addressed in the Scriptures. I fight it regularly, and only by God's grace do I not go back. Such a thought sends chills up my spiritual spine.

One thing I've learned in my years of pastoral ministry is that certain personalities (mine included) are drawn by Phariseeism. You know - the Pharisees were the religious fundamentalists of Jesus' day who said, "We're right and everyone else (including you, Jesus) are wrong." They claimed to be the anointed keepers of the Law.

Within every church, going back to the 1st Century are personalities who either were saved out of legalism or who because of their upbringing are drawn to the idea that the stricter the rules, the holier the life. And inevitably that belief leads to tightening the turniquet around the life of the Spirit in the hearts of believers.

Paul called those in the Galatian churches who had reverted back to grace plus law "bewitched". It's as though they were under a spell. Following Paul's departure from their region, Judaizers - Jews who taught Gentiles that before you could become a Christian you had to first become a Jew by circumcision (ouch) - came into these fledgling churches, pulling out their credentials as teachers, and brought the confusion that legalism brings, especially to those of us with a bent toward that kind of thing.

Here's where I see the Judaizers today. Sure, they're in local churches. Always will be. They've always had their publications. My mom used to subscribe to one and I read it as a kid every week. But with the free soap box (that I am currently using) of the internet, they are just a Google away from anyone's computer. And from the computer their interpretations go directly where? Into our minds.

Graciously the Holy Spirit has been teaching me for 44 years that Christianity brings liberty, not bondage to standards we create that the Creator never intended. Straining at gnats and fixating on the speck in someone else's eye only breeds a negativism that stifles what matters most: loving men and women into the Kingdom of Christ.

"So, be careful little eyes what you see. Be careful little ears what you hear." That was a good lesson from my childhood. At NHC we've determined not to allow Phariseeism in any form to take a foothold among us. And that includes in me as well. Our elders are committed to that. We won't permit ourselves to major on the minors, which is the hallmark of a legalistic spirit.

So, Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Galatians 5:1 KJV

(You'll note that for this post I've chosen to use the Authorized Version of the Bible. Sorry, I must have been leaning that direction.)

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