Question 17: It seems as I have shifted to a more grace centered relationship with my Savior I am more open to “diversity” of Biblical thought, but I still have my doubts of, am I going too far in my beliefs outside of traditional Church of Christ legalism?

I can understand from where this brother is coming. I went through this shifting process and wrestled with the same kind of thoughts. If you were raised in a legalistic environment it is not easy to shift. Hal Hougey wrote the following:

“Legalism is a respectable looking, well-dressed demon. He looks so proper! He acts so well-behaved! He looks like he belongs. He seldom misses a church gathering, and often takes a leading part. In fact, in many ways he is s paragon of virtue. He is one of us.”

Those of us who were raised to think legalistically tend to initially, at least, feel anxious and uneasy about grace. We fear it makes salvation too easy and will result in less respect for God and the authority represented by His written word, and thus encourage godless living. Then brethren who are not grace-oriented begin to look upon you suspiciously and denounce those who emphasize that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works as spiritually weak and opportunistic. The legalist worries about how they will control church members and make them conform if they emphasize grace too much. They fail to see that the law of Christ is not a code that legally compels, but is a moral or spiritual motivation prompted by love. The apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:14 that “the love of Christ constrains us.” The NAS says, “The love of Christ controls us.” The New English Bible renders it: “The love of Christ leaves us no choice.” The true believer responds out of loving adoration and thankfulness. It is not a matter of coercion or commandment, but the result of a joyous heart. It is not a matter of fear, but of faith. It is a commitment of trust.

It is not easy to shift from reading the scriptures in a proof-texting manner to support your unwritten creed,and write off those who don’t conform to your thought, to reading them as a collection of letters from a loving Parent, helping us to confront the human predicament. It’s much easier to apply a legal code of do’s and don’ts then to invoke the law of love, applying principles.

Ironically the Churches of Christ have been champions of the right of all men to study the scriptures for themselves and draw their own conclusions, but this has not been the practice. As Olan Hicks once wrote:

“The most disruptive ingredient brought into the church throughout history has been the persistent tendency of men to demand that the Servants of Christ answer to their judgment simply because they believe their views are correct….  Faith does not question what God has said. But faith has every right in the world to question what men think about the meaning of what God has said.”

Brethren don’t have the right to think for you, but many think they do. Couple this with the circumstances of early and repeated indoctrination to legalism and it is no wonder that persons have doubts about tolerating diversity as they make the shift to relying upon Christ to save them rather than compliance with the unwritten creed of the brotherhood


5 responses to “Question 17: It seems as I have shifted to a more grace centered relationship with my Savior I am more open to “diversity” of Biblical thought, but I still have my doubts of, am I going too far in my beliefs outside of traditional Church of Christ legalism?

  1. I have recently broke out of the legalistic mindset I was raised in. This was a process. Before this process I was fearful to even consider any of this because of the legalistic and judgmental voices in mind head. Since I’ve understood Grace better and realized better that Jesus wanted his followers to be known for their love and not their rule keeping and all that implies, I have had a freedom and confidence that I’ve found is not sinful or wrong like I was afraid of.

  2. Hi Adam,
    I was raised in a legalistic mindset as well and have had a difficult time dealing with “grace” ever since. I’ve pretty well been able to deal with instrumental music, one cup, and most prooftexting. For me the most difficult part of the gospel to address is baptism. I believe I would be able to defend both stances o baptism equally but have never resolved this issue. Any thought would be helpful. I only want to do what God’s word requires of me. Nothing more-nothing less. It really shouldn’t be so difficult but i don’t believe God expects us all to be scholars in order to understand what he wants us to believe and “do” if anything.
    Sid Carter

  3. Adam Legler

    Hey Sid,
    I know exactly what you mean. A great resource on Grace and the Holy Spirit is Jay Guin’s free e-book:

    The baptism thing is something that I have just now gotten my mind around. My conclusion is that it is more about the heart than anything else. If you allow, I’ll tell you my journy on this.

    After I had been praying about this for a long time I felt that God led me to Romans 2 where Paul talks about circumcision and the Jews and their hearts. Paul says that it didn’t matter if a Jew was circumcized if their heart wasn’t right. More importantly, he says someone who isn’t circumcized but as the right heart is considered circumcized. That is easy to translate to baptism in my mind.

    This all started for me when my wife and I attended an anniversary for a local pregnancy center that gets all of it’s funding from churches. There were only about 5 of us there who were Church of Christ. Everyone else was Baptist, Methodist, etc. Yet it was evident that the Holy Spirit was present. Even more so than the average C of C Sun. morning service. It was just overwhelming how much love and the desire to God’s will was in the place. I made the observation that just about everyone (800 people or so) in the room were not C of C and so their view on baptism was different. Yet the Holy Spirit was all over that place.

    I was deacon over missions at our church at the time and we just had our eldership refuse to fully endorse a local effort headed by another Community church to reach the lost through apartment ministry. They only wanted us to be on board so we could all be more effective together than a part. So I sent out an email to several church members and made a Facebook post documeting my experiencing at the pregnancy center annivesary event and asking why we don’t consider those of other demoninations Christians largely because of their stance on baptism though the Holy Spirit is obvioulsy at work in them if you are willing to go to one of their services and meet their members.

    Without going into unnecessary details, this all played a part in me resigning as deacon and our family moving to what turned out to be a Baptist church for a while (they call themselves the Connect church) where the Holy Spirit is obiviously present. But I never felt comfortable considering their view on conversion through the sinner’s prayer. Just not biblical. Though they do have a strong emphasis on baptism.

    So here is what I’ve discovered. In John 3:15, the Greek word for believe means a one time thing. So when Jesus is talking about receiving eternal life, according to the Greek, he is saying it happens the instant you believe. But I do believe that implies more than just making you’re mind up about something. It’s a lifestyle.

    I’ve also learned that there are many respected Greek scholars who translate Acts 2:38 differently. According to them, the context of what Peter says better supports, “Be baptized because you have repented and already received the Holy Spirit”. I am not a Greek scholar so I don’t know if that’s true. But something worth considering.

    The funny thing is that all of these other churches and demoninations all preach baptism, they just have a different view on it. And the only qualification Jesus makes on baptism in Matt. 28 is to be baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spririt, which these churches do. So regardless of the view, what the C of C says about what happens in baptism vs. what other churches say does or does not happen will occur when we do what Jesus says. In Acts they did not baptize Apollos again when they discovered he did not totally understand his baptism. It’s not based on our understanding of it. It’s about the heart. It’s not about the act of baptism, it’s about the whole process of believing and living for God. It’s about loving God and loving others and unity. The things Jesus specifically talked about. I personally think the C of C has put to much emphasis on baptism because many times there is not much discipleship that happens afterwards while other churches have not put enough on it. We’re all in error in my opinion and God’s grace covers us all if our hearts are right.

    Jay Guin’s recent series on imperfect baptism has been helpful to me:

    Ironically, we are considering returning to the C of C we were at because of the relationships we have there with the members. But we will refrain from getting caught up in the act of judging other people who love Christ and show that in their lifestyle. We will try to focus more on being about His work of loving others and planting the seed than trying to change the minds of those leaders who are not at the point of considering all of this.

    Hope this helps you in some way.


  4. sid carter

    Thanks, adam
    This is very helpful to me as are Jay’s writings as well. Having been in my position I’m sure you know how slow and painful change can be. The grip of legalism is a tenacious one to say the least. It instills a fear in you that you might just slip down the slippery slope of liberalism by just thinking thoughts contrary to it’s tenets.
    Again, thanks and send any further writings you think might be helpful.

  5. Adam Legler

    I just started reading a book about spiritual sarfare by Neil Anderson. I’ve never read his stuff before but he’s well respected and so far the book is really good. I noticed on the back cover that he wrote a book called Breaking the Bondage of Legalism. It may be worth looking at. Let me know if you do.

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