Legalists: Give Me the Official Rules


Dealing with legalists in the church can be discouraging. Of course, no one believes they are a legalist (and maybe we all are to a degree). Most legalists just feel they are serious about obedience while others are less so. And how is obedience not a good thing?

The issue with legalism is that it comes from a mindset of superiority. The legalist believes that he or she knows the word of God and its proper interpretation and application in every situation. There are no areas of life where good, sincere Christians may disagree. Of course, this mindset runs contrary to Scripture (cf. Romans 14:1-12) and to logic if we are honest with ourselves.

Think about your Christian walk through the years. How often have you changed your mind about a particular thing that you thought you knew? How often have you gained new understanding or perspective and had to reevaluate some of your former convictions? It happens to all of us. It reminds us that we are not all-knowing and that we are in a process of growth in our Christian lives. It should be a reminder that we need to practice humility and grace towards others who have not learned what we have or have reached different conclusions than we have. Many legalists will readily admit that their minds have changed over time, but they fail to practice the grace that should result from such experience. They held people to their old view and, when their their minds changed, they now hold people to their new view. And they never miss a beat in between.

Perhaps the hardest thing about legalism is that no two legalists are the same. They hold differing convictions on so many things. If you have multiple legalists in your life (and you probably do), it will be impossible to please them all. Why? Because they do not agree with each other! One will think you should boycott movies with certain ratings while another will think all movies are bad. Still another may say we should avoid companies like Disney for something the company may have done in the past. It is not only impossible to keep everyone else’s rules, it is impossible to even keep track of all of their rules! Can someone please give me the “official” set of rules and the final interpretation of those rules? What movies can I watch? How much TV is acceptable? Which political party should I vote for? What music can I listen to? What clothes can I wear? Can a woman wear makeup? If so, how much? Can a woman hold a job? What if she works from home? How should Christian parents educate their children? Can I celebrate certain holidays? And on and on it goes. Of course such a list does not exist. Sincere Christians disagree on all of these things!

Legalism is alive and well. It is a threat to all of us because we all like to feel superior to others. However, we must resist it in ourselves and in others because it suffocates the Christian life and it is a perversion of the gospel of grace. No one can keep all of the rules. That is what the Mosaic Law teaches us. It opens our eyes to the need of a Savior who saves us from our sin (Romans 3:20). This becomes no less true after we are saved. Our sin continually pushes us back to the cross and the Savior who died there for us, to remind us of his love for us and his continued grace towards us.

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I Am Doing Something New…

Blur Old Antique BookSome of you may be wondering what I am up to lately. I have not been posting to Theologically Speaking in some time. Well, I have started a new venture at Shaped by the Word. I would love to have you follow me there!

Shaped by the Word is a place where I will be sharing my thoughts each weekday on the Bible passage I am reading that day. I am also hoping to hear back from others who are reading along. So, come join the conversation and read along with me!

What does this mean for Theologically Speaking? It will still be here. I have no plans to remove the articles that are here because they still get many visitors every day and I still get messages from people who are benefiting from reading them. I will still post here from time-to-time on things related to Christianity and modern culture.

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The Church Bully

I just came across an insightful post from Thom Rainer. In his post, Rainer lists nine common characteristics of what he labels “church bullies”. Read through the points below. Have you ever had to deal with a church bully? Have you ever been a part of a church that had a bully? What was done or what should have been done?

Here is Rainer’s list:

  1. They do not recognize themselves as bullies. To the contrary, they see themselves as necessary heroes sent to save the church from her own self.
  2. They have personal and self-serving agendas. They have determined what “their” church should look like. Any person or ministry or program that is contrary to their perceived ideal church must be eliminated.
  3. They seek to form power alliances with weak members in the church. They will pester and convince groups, committees, and persons to be their allies in their cause. Weaker church staff members and church members will succumb to their forceful personalities.
  4. They tend to have intense and emotional personalities. These bullies use the intensity of their personalities to get their way.
  5. They are famous for saying “people are saying.” They love to gather tidbits of information and shape it to their own agendas.
  6. They find their greatest opportunities in low expectation churches. Many of the church members have an entitlement view of church membership. They seek to get their own needs and preferences fulfilled. They, therefore, won’t trouble themselves to confront and deal with church bullies. That leads to the next issue, which is a consequence of this point
  7. They are allowed to bully because church members will not stand up to them. I have spoken with pastors and church staff who have been attacked by church bullies. While the bully brings them great pain, they have even greater hurt because most of the church members stood silent and let it happen.
  8. They create chaos and wreak havoc. A church bully always has his next mission. While he or she may take a brief break from one bullying mission to the next, they are not content unless they are exerting the full force of their manipulative behavior.
  9. They often move to other churches after they have done their damage. Whether they are forced out or simply get bored, they will move to other churches with the same bullying mission. Some bullies have wreaked havoc in three or more churches.

If you want to look at the original post, it is here.

Posted in Christianity, Church, Church Growth, Church Issues | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Who Are the Covenant People of God?

Ok, help me understand something.

I often hear fellow Christians speak of Israel as God’s covenant people. I understand that God made a covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai. We refer to it as the Mosaic Covenant.

However, in the New Testament, we are told that Christ has made a new covenant that is superior to and renders the old one obsolete (Hebrews 8). This new covenant is not for a nation, but for all who believe (Jew and Gentile).

So, are we wrong to say that the Jewish people today are God’s covenant people? Why or why not? If they are God’s covenant people, in what sense?

Note: this is not to deny the special place in history that Israel and the Jewish people have. They were the recipients of the Mosaic Covenant, Jesus Christ was a Jew, and I believe God has a specific plan for the nation of Israel in the future. But this is not the same as saying that they are God’s covenant people.

Your thoughts?

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Discounted eBooks from The Gospel Coalition 2015

If you are interested in The Gospel Coalition, you will probably be interested in some of the ebooks that are on sale during the conference. has a listing of all of the special deals. Many of these titles are also available at or if you are using Logos Bible Software.

There are some good discounts, so take a look!

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The 15 Year Plan

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that it is my goal to write through the Bible before I die. Well, it may surprise you that I had not actually calculated how long it would take if I continue to write about eight verses per day. I just assumed that was a good pace.

I have analyzed it now though and if I write an average of eight verses per day (5 days per week), I will finish my goal in 15 years! If God grants me an average lifespan, I should be able to finish and have a few years left to add some notes or something! Now, if I can only stick to the plan.

So far, I have finished the Gospel of John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and 1 Peter. I am looking forward to working on the Psalms next.

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Pastor Halts Gay Funeral: Some Observations

A pastor in Colorado halted the funeral of a gay woman that was taking place in the church where he serves and, according to Yahoo Parenting, there are many people upset. Click here for the article.

Apparently, the reason for the pastor halting the funeral was because of the pictures that were being shown in a slideshow. There were pictures that included moments of affection between the deceased and her partner.

Here are some observations and questions I have:

  1. If the church is opposed to homosexuality, which seems to be the case, why did they agree to allow the funeral to be held there in the first place?
  2. Was there an agreement between the church and the family of the deceased concerning the content of the service? The comments about the church wanting to “edit out” details of the person’s life lead me to think there were discussions about this before the service.
  3. If there were discussions and there was an agreement, what responsibility does the family have to actually follow the agreement?
  4. If there was an agreement and the family broke it, the church was put in a very difficult situation. To ask a church to violate their conscience is not a minor thing.

It seems this could have easily been avoided by having the service at the funeral home to begin with or by holding the service at a different location where there was no conflict of worldviews. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

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The NET Bible: A Great Free Resource for Serious Study

netbibleThere are many study Bibles available and many of them are very good. I have a few that I like to recommend to people who are wanting to gain a better understanding of Scripture.

However, there is one study Bible that I find truly unique and especially valuable. It is the NET Bible. NET is short for New English Translation. This Bible is a joint effort of several Bible scholars who put together a translation of the Bible with the purpose of giving it away for free.

As part of their translation work, these scholars have also included over 60,000 translation notes to help the reader understand why they translated passages the way they did. There is a goldmine of information on the Hebrew and Greek behind the English translation as well as historical and cultural information. I fully encourage anyone who wants to dig a little deeper in their understanding of Scripture and Bible translation to look at this resource.

And best of all, it’s FREE!

You can find the free NET Bible here:

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We Live in a “Merry Christmas” World

So here is an article about a guy who got upset when someone wished him a Merry Christmas. He let himself get so upset that he eventually got kicked off an airplane.

The man’s reason for getting upset: he does not celebrate Christmas.

News flash: the western world in general and the United States in particular celebrate Christmas. It is the most celebrated holiday in our culture and there is not a close second. A person is free to not participate, but do not expect everyone else to just stop because you choose not to participate.

I know what some of you are thinking: this man was having Christianity forced on him. I do not buy that. While it is true that Christmas is an important holiday for most Christians, it is also true that in our world, Christmas means many things to many people. Non-Christians celebrate Christmas and think nothing of its religious meaning.

So, if a person decides not to celebrate Christmas and stand against the grain of culture, that is OK. But when you stand against the grain, you can expect to get rubbed the wrong way once in a while.

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Do You Know the Bible or the Author of the Bible?

knowing the author

Um, this came across my Facebook feed today and lots of people liked it. Why? I have no idea.

The statement on the photo creates a false dichotomy between knowing the Bible and knowing God. It champions the second and looks down on the first.

The problem is that to know God, one must know his book. The Bible is an autobiography. God, the author, has told us all about himself in his book and if we want to know him, we read, we study and we do it some more.

Now, it is true that you can know all about the author and not know the author. So, you can accomplish the first without the second. However, it is impossible to know the author without knowing the Bible. You cannot accomplish the second without the first!

The picture above would be much better if it said something like:

Do you want to know God? Read his book that tells you all about him.


The Bible is not just any book. God wrote it that we may know him and love him.


Knowing the Bible is an extremely important thing, because it helps us know the Author.

Consider how important knowing the word of God is according to Scripture:

  • Isaiah 55:10-11 – the word of God accomplishes the will of God.
  • Romans 1:16 and 1 Corinthians 1:18 – the word of God is the power of God for salvation.
  • Romans 10:17 – the word of God creates faith.
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:13 – the word of God performs God’s work in us.
  • Hebrews 4:12 – The word of God is living and active. It convicts.
  • James 1:18 – The word of God brings new birth.
  • James 1:21 – the word of God saves us.

I bristle whenever I hear or read statements like the one in the photo above because of the great necessity of knowing the word of God. God wants us to know him and he has revealed himself to us. He did it through his book. We need to know it.

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