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Tag: Church Standards

Is It a Sin to Go to the Movie Theater?

mary poppinsBack in the days of my youth, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches I attended banned their members from going to indoor and outdoor movie theaters. Their logic went something like this:

  • By attending movies, you were supporting evil, immoral Hollywood.
  • By attending movies, you might cause other Christians to think poorly of you. What if they saw you leaving a multiplex theater that offered G-rated and R-rated movies? They could wrongly assume that you were watching an R-rated movie and not a God-approved G-rated movie. This would lead to you having a bad testimony in the eyes of other believers.
  • By attending movies, you could cause spiritually weaker Christians to stumble. If these spiritually immature believers saw you attending a movie, they would assume that it was all right for them to watch a movie too. And their spiritual immaturity could result in them watching non-G-rated movies.

This same logic was applied to watching television and eating in restaurants that served the Devil’s brew, alcohol. (Please see Catch-All Bible Verses: I Will Set No Wicked Thing Before My Eyes) Several years ago, I wrote a post titled, The Preacher and His TV. Here’s an excerpt from this post that best explains how IFB churches view things such as movies and television:

My wife and I married in 1978. One of our first purchases was a used tube console color TV that we purchased from Marv Hartman TV in Bryan, Ohio. We paid $125. We continued to watch TV for a few years, until one day I decided that watching TV was a sin. This was in the mid-1980s. After swearing off watching TV, I decided that no one, if he were a good Christian anyway, should be watching television. One Sunday, as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio, I preached a 90-minute sermon on the evils of watching television and going to the movies. I called on all true Christians to immediately get rid of their TVs and follow their preacher into the pure air of a Hollywood-free world.

To prove my point, I gathered the congregation out in front of the church for a physical demonstration of my commitment to following the TV-hating Jesus. I put our TV in the church yard and I hit it several times with a sledge-hammer, breaking the TV into pile of electronic rubble. Like the record burnings of the 1970s, my act was meant to show that I was willing to do whatever it took to be an on-fire, sold-out follower of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Just before I hit the TV with the sledge-hammer, a church member by the name of Gary said to me, Hey preacher, if you don’t want that TV I’ll take it.  How dare he ruin my sin-hating demonstration! I thought at the time. I gave Gary a scowling look and proceeded to knock the devil right out of the TV. I am happy to report that not one church member followed in my TV-hating footsteps.  What church members did do is make sure that their televisions were OFF when the man of God made an appearance at their home.

….

In the early 1990s, I would, from time to time, rent a television from a local rent-to-own business. Two times come to mind: the World Series and the 1991 Gulf War. Outside of that, my oldest three children grew up in a television-free home. They were teenagers: 18, 16, and 13, before they watched TV (except for watching Saturday cartoons when they were little). Well, this isn’t entirely true. When they visited their grandparents, they were permitted to watch TV (even though I wasn’t happy about them doing so). Like Amish children, they were mesmerized by Disney movies and cartoons.

After our family attended their first movie, I decided I would buy a television, setting in motion seven years of what any competent psychologist would call bizarre behavior. While what I am about to share will sound hilarious to those who never spent any time in Christian Fundamentalism, at the time, there was nothing humorous about my actions.

From 1998 through 2005, I purchased and got rid of at least six television sets. I gave one TV to the local crisis pregnancy center. I also gave one set to my son. The rest I sold at a loss. Why all the televisions? you might ask. Simple. After watching TV for a time, like a moth to a flame, I was drawn towards watching shows that I promised God I would never watch. Dear Lord, I promise I will only watch G or PG rated programming, and if there is any nudity, cursing, or gore I will immediately turn off the TV. No matter how much I wanted to be holy and righteous, I found that I loved watching programs that contained things that I considered sin.

My “sinning’ would go on for a few weeks until the guilt would become so great that I would say to God, you are right God. This is sin. I will get rid of the TV and I promise to never, never watch it again. Out the TV would go, but months later I would get the hankering to watch TV again and I would, unbeknownst to Polly, go buy a television.

It is clear now that my beliefs made me mentally and emotionally unstable. I so wanted to be right with God and live a life untainted by the world, yet I loved to watch TV. One time, after I came to the decision to get rid of yet another TV, Polly arrived home from work and found me sitting on the steps of the porch, crying and despondent. I hated myself. I hated that I was so easily led astray by Satan. I hated that I was such a bad testimony. Look at ALL that Jesus did for me! Couldn’t I, at the very least, go without watching TV for the sake of the kingdom of God?

I have written before about my perfectionist tendencies. I wanted to be the perfect Christian. God’s Word said to abstain from the very appearance of evil. Psalm 101:3 was a driving force in my life: I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.

Television was a wicked thing, I told myself, yet I continued to battle with my desire to watch sports and other programs on TV. Needless to say, the advent of internet, brought into our home a new way for me to be tempted to sin against the thrice holy God I pledged to serve, even unto death. I’m sure that my children will remember me putting a sign above our computer that quoted Psalm 101:3. This was meant as a reminder that we should NEVER view inappropriate, sinful things on the internet.

My three oldest children, now in their 30s, continue to rib me about my TV-crazed days. One of them will periodically ask if I am ready to get rid of our flat-screen TV. Their good-natured ribbing hails back to the day when their Dad acted like a psycho, buying and selling televisions. At the time, I am sure they thought I was crazy, and I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

….

In the late 1990s, I came to the conclusion that it was not a sin to watch a movie as long as it was G or PG-rated. One Saturday evening, Polly and I loaded our children into our car and drove to a nearby drive-in theater. Polly was fearful, thinking that God would judge or kill us for going to the theater. I told her that I was confident that God wouldn’t judge us for watching Air Bud and George of the Jungle. Not that I knew this, of course. I had concluded that some of our Fundamentalist phobias were legalistic nonsense, and the prohibition against movie attendance was one such phobia. Over time, we, however, proved that IFB preachers were “right” about movies; right in the sense that once you start watching movies, you are on a downhill slide that leads to R-rated, NC17-rated, and even X-rated movies. Over the years, our viewing habits did change, especially once we moved away from Evangelicalism. We didn’t, however, turn into vile, evil people who thirsted for the things of the flesh. Today, we watch what we want to watch, regardless of the rating. We generally prefer PG-13 or R-rated movies or M-rated TV programs.

Over the holidays, a monumental event took place with Polly’s parents; one that we NEVER, EVER thought would happen. Polly grew up in a home where movie attendance was verboten. Well, almost verboten. Her family had a dirty little secret. When they went on vacation to Florida, they would go to the movies. Their logic, if you call it that, was that no one from their church would see them. This same logic was played out at the college we attended. Female students were not permitted to wear pants. Students were also not permitted to travel more than ten miles from the school. One Saturday evening, while out on a double-date, Polly and I stopped at a mall that was outside of the ten-mile radius. Imagine our surprise when we saw the college president’s wife and her daughter strolling through the mall wearing pants! They never expected to run into students, so they felt safe wearing sinful, wicked, immoral pants. So it was with Polly’s family and movies while they were on vacation: out of sight, out of mind.

While at home, Polly’s family NEVER attended the movies. Doing so was a sin. But Bruce, weren’t Polly’s parents (and preacher uncle and aunt) being hypocritical; living one way at home and a different way while on vacation? Sure they were, but such inconsistencies were common among IFB preachers and congregants. As the case for almost all Evangelicals, they made it up as they went along. Behaviors that were sins in the 1970s became approved actions in the 1990s. In the late 1970s, the church Polly’s parents attend believed having facial hair was a big, fat s-i-n. Today? It is not uncommon to see male church members sporting mustaches and beards — but no long hair. I have concluded that IFB churches, standard-wise, are about 20 years behind the “world.” Just wait long enough, and things that once were sins will no longer be so.

Back to the monumental event that took place during the holidays. My oldest son and his children visited Polly’s parents over Christmas. While there, he and his cousins and their children got together and went to a movie. While the cousins claim varying degrees of Evangelical Christianity, none of them has a problem with movie attendance. The shocking part of this story is that Polly’s mom and dad went with them! This is the first time in over fifty years that they have attended a movie on their home turf. All told, twenty-two of them went to see a racy, violent movie — Mary Poppins Returns.

Only one family member held to the IFB standard: Polly’s recently widowed aunt. Her husband had been a hardcore IFB preacher for over fifty years. She couldn’t bring herself to violate the standard her husband had preached over all those years. Of course, once the movie comes out on DVD or Netflix, well then it will be okay to watch it. I remember having a “discussion” with her preacher husband back in late 1980s about the inconsistency of his stand on movies. He preached against attending movie theaters, mainly because doing so supported Hollywood and could lead to a bad testimony. However, he had no problem renting movies at the local video store; a store which, by the way, had a special room where they stocked explicit X-rated movies. Hypocritical? Yep, but that’s the norm in Evangelical churches, including IFB congregations. If a preacher or congregants want to do something that violates the law of Medes and Persians, well they will find a way to get around the law. My problem was that I was a perfectionist who demanded strict obedience to the law. If going to a movie theater was a sin, so was renting movies from a video store. In the early 1990s, I tried to live — quite comically — according to the standard of not doing business with any concern that sold alcohol. I found that it was IMPOSSIBLE to do so. Every grocery store and most gas stations sold alcohol, as did upscale restaurants. Thus, I had to — dare I say — compromise my beliefs. Purity of belief was impossible.

Today, things are far different for Polly and me. God and the Bible no longer have any authority over us. We are free to do what we want. Having such freedom makes for living a peaceable life. We no longer worry about God raining fire from Heaven down on our heads or afflicting us with leprosy. We are free to live our lives as we wish. This doesn’t mean we are hedonists, doing as we will without compulsion or fear of consequences. We still live our lives according to personal standards and cultural norms, but we no longer let Christian belief determine how we live.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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Living Life Through a Lens of Godliness, a Guest Post by ObstacleChick

godliness

A guest post by ObstacleChick

Growing up in an Evangelical environment, I learned that we are supposed to assess everything through the lens of godliness. That means we should discern whether our thoughts, actions, movies or television shows we watch, songs we listen to, articles of clothing we wear, relationships we have, and articles or books we read glorify God or detract from godliness. This is a large task that requires a lot of attention.

Many Christians I knew at my Southern Baptist church or at my Evangelical school went through the motions of religious practice without taking it to extremes, but some people took it quite seriously. I always found it overwhelming to pay the necessary attention to every single aspect of life to determine whether it met the standards of godliness. My grandmother, who had her own library of Christian concordances, history books, and books by Christian apologists, as well as Christian novels, spent large amounts of time trying to live up to what she considered her God’s standards for godliness. Everything was intently scrutinized to determine whether each was godly enough.

Our family loved watching “The Sound of Music” when it was broadcast on TV each year. We could sing along with all the songs, and we all cheered when the naughty nuns stole car parts from the Nazis’ cars so they could not pursue the Von Trapp family as they fled through the mountains to neutral Switzerland. However, one year, my grandmother determined that one of the songs, “Something Good,” taught an ungodly doctrine. This song was sung by Maria and Captain von Trapp after they declared their love for each other. Here are the main lyrics:

“Something Good” by Richard Rodgers

Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth
For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good
Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

First, my grandmother said good things in our lives come through the grace and mercy of God, not through anything we do ourselves. Yes, our actions have consequences, but all good things come from Heaven above. The second issue she had with the song was with the line “nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could.” In her mind, God created the heavens and earth and all therein from nothing, so therefore everything came from nothing and God made nothing into something. And technically there wasn’t “nothing” because there was God (yeah, I don’t get it either). I must admit, I thought she was nit-picking a fun, wholesome, uplifting movie, but I don’t think she watched it again until she started suffering from dementia.

Grandma believed that God developed hierarchies for us to follow. She believed that wives were under their husbands’ authority; that children were under their parents’ authority; that everyone is under God’s authority. She ran the household this way too, but in a loving way. At one point, we were a four-generation household, with my great-grandmother, my grandparents, my mom, and me. Eventually, my mom married again and moved out, but Grandma adhered to her hierarchy. Grandpa was head of household, so he could do whatever he wanted and was to be catered to at all times. Grandma’s mother was next, as children are commanded to honor their parents, and my great-grandmother’s whims were catered to as well. Technically, I was lowest on the totem pole, but Grandma considered herself God’s servant and put herself in the lowest position, eventually to the detriment of her health.

The hierarchy was amusing with regard to television. My great-grandmother was barely mobile, so using her walker, she would go from her bedroom to the table for breakfast, then to her chair where she watched television all day. (My grandma served my great-grandmother’s meals at her chair on a TV tray.) In the morning was news; then “preaching shows” (typically Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker whom I thought looked like a clown with all the makeup); then “The Price is Right,” followed by noon news and an afternoon of her soap operas; then evening news and a full slate of prime time shows and/or a movie. My great-grandmother controlled what we watched. Grandpa bought another television so he could watch sports or movies in another room. Grandma didn’t approve of a lot of the programming on television, but because she considered herself submissive to Grandpa and to her mother, she rarely said anything. I loved being able to watch movies and shows with the word “damn” or “oh my god” (which Grandma considered blasphemous). Grandpa’s favorite movie was “Patton” with George C. Scott in the lead, and even the edited-for-TV version was unacceptable by Grandma’s standards. The only time Grandma intervened was one day on my great-grandmother’s soap opera there was a male stripper and my great-grandma got a little too excited about it. Grandma said, “That’s it, I’m not having that filth in my house anymore,” whereupon my great-grandmother had a tantrum, hauled herself out of her chair, and took five minutes to go twenty feet down the hall with her walker to her bedroom where she sequestered herself and sulked the rest of the day. About a week later she was allowed to watch television again. Grandma herself didn’t watch much television outside of the news and Billy Graham Crusades, and she only listened to Christian radio talk shows like “The Christian Jew Hour” or shows by pastors such as James Dobson.

Grandma did not believe we should play games with regular playing cards because they were a “tool of gambling.”  She would play Rook because those were not playing cards. She did allow me to play solitaire with a deck of cards, but only because I was not playing with another player and gambling, and because her beloved father had enjoyed solitaire so much when he was alive. We weren’t allowed to play rummy in her house — I had to play it at my mom and stepdad’s house. Grandma wouldn’t allow me to play with dice either, because they were also tools of gambling — so games like Yahtzee and Monopoly were forbidden as well. Grandma never understood that literally ANYTHING could become a tool for gambling.

There were a couple of extremely pious girls who attended my church and school. They could, and often did, judge other people’s words and actions “in love,” “correcting” their peers in their testimony to others. During the 1980s, certain television shows such as “Magnum PI” and “The A-Team” were popular. Mr. T was known for saying, “I pity the fool….” A lot of us kids would quote Mr. T, and the word “fool” became a part of our vocabulary. Of course, one day on the school bus, I said “fool” and one of these lovely girls took it upon herself to let me know that it was ungodly to say “fool” because of this verse:

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:22)

What I didn’t consider at the time is that it may have been Wednesday. On Wednesdays, one of the pious girls was required by her family to fast at lunchtime and to give the money her lunch would have cost to charity. So she may have just been hungry.

The pious girls determined that the only music they would listen to included “Beach Boys” songs, classical music, and any music played at our church and school. They were suspicious about the music played on the Christian radio station. It was too “worldly” or “liberal” because drums and electrical instruments were used in some of the songs. Their exclamatory word of choice was “fudge.” My Grandma used to say “I’ll Swanee” as her exclamatory word until one day (who knows how) she determined that saying “I’ll Swanee” was ungodly, as it was a replacement swear word. Thereafter, she stifled any response other than “Oh.” Grandma allowed me to listen to classical music or to gospel music and anything by the Bill Gaither Trio, but all other music was considered ungodly. (Please read Christian Swear Words.)

This level of discernment made me anxious and took up a lot of energy while growing up. Honestly, I couldn’t keep up with it all. A lot of it was confusing, and I longed to be free to enjoy life without worrying about every single word, action, or situation being godly enough. When I stayed at my mom and stepdad’s house, there was a lot more freedom of speech and action, but I would have to switch back into high-vigilance mode at my grandparents’ house and at school. It was a relief to let it all go as I moved further away from Evangelical Christianity. Interestingly, as my grandmother succumbed to dementia and no longer remembered all the religious strictures, she became a lot happier, childlike, and fun. There was a lot I missed about her intellectually, but as she became more forgetful, she enjoyed a lot of things again like movies and baseball (we never knew she was an Atlanta Braves fan until she suffered dementia, and I have no idea when or why baseball became ungodly). Don’t get me wrong, my grandmother was a very loving and caring person who did a lot of things to help others (as anonymously as possible), and I loved her dearly, but some of her standards were a lot to handle.

Did the home you grow up in have a code of godliness or what Baptists call “standards”? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

Bob Gray, Sr. Says He is Not a Legalist and Then Proves He Is

biblical dress standard
If following the “Biblical” standard is so important, why don’t IFB preachers and congregants dress like this? Surely, dressing as Jesus did would be best, right?

Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers are fond of saying, when confronted over their cultic, authoritarian, legalistic codes of conduct, that they are not legalists; that legalism is adding works to salvation. In this post, I intend to use a recent article by Bob Gray, Sr. to demonstrate that IFB preachers such as Gray are indeed legalists despite their protestations.

The first time I heard the argument that “legalism is adding works to salvation” was in the 1980s in a sermon preached by IFB luminary James Dennis, the now-retired pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio. The Baptist Temple (as it is commonly called), as is the case with most IFB churches, had a long list of rules (standards) church members were expected to explicitly keep. Anyone who was in leadership or worked in any of the church’s ministries was required to sign statement saying that they would obey and practice the church’s standards. Women, of course, were not permitted to wear pants, and men were not allowed to have long hair or facial hair. There were other rules detailing what entertainments and social activities were forbidden. These standards were the Baptist Temple’s version of the unalterable laws of the Medes and Persians (Daniel 6:8).  Refusing to sign the form meant you were not permitted to serve in the church and were branded as rebellious and unsubmissive to the will of James Dennis — I mean God.

When thoughtful people would object to the strict rules, they would often say that the church’s standards were legalistic. Pastor Dennis’ response was to remind them that legalism meant “adding works to salvation,” and neither he or the church was doing that!  According to Pastor Dennis, the church’s standards were derived from the Bible and were simply a statement of how God expected Christians to live their lives.

Bob Gray, Sr. uses the same arguments in a recent post titled, How to Tell if You are Being Legalistic. Gray writes:

Legalism is salvation by faith plus works! It is salvation plus baptism, plus church membership, plus keeping the law, plus communion, plus confession.

The Seventh Day Adventist doctrine, Church of Christ doctrine, Catholic doctrine, Armenian doctrine, Armstrong World-Wide Church of God doctrine, the Mormon doctrine, and the Jehovah (False) Witness doctrine are legalism.

Right off the bat Gray establishes with no justification other than what he has made up in his mind that legalism is “salvation by faith plus works! It is salvation plus baptism, plus church membership, plus keeping the law, plus communion, plus confession.”  Thus, Seventh Day Adventists, the Churches of Christ, Roman Catholics, Armenians [sic], Herbert Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses all preach a legalistic, works-based false gospel.

Using his made-up definition of legalism, Gray then proceeds to share why he is most certainly NOT a legalist. Gray, the retired pastor of Longview Baptist Temple in Longview, Texas writes:

Legalism is not a godly mother who insists that her daughter dress modestly. Legalism is not parents enrolling their children in a Christian school that believes as they do about separation from the world. Legalism is not a dedicated aged godly dad who takes his son to the barbershop instead of a beauty shop every two weeks.

Legalism is not a faithful youth director who insists his teenagers dress appropriately. Legalism is not a hard-working pastor who insists that his Sunday school teachers not smoke, not drink alcohol, no tobacco use, no movies, they visit absentees, and go soul winning.

Legalism is not the careful godly educator who forbids his students to dance or listen to bad music. Legalism is not the man of God who cries aloud against mixed swimming, in essence, mixed nudity, against vampire lipstick promoting drugs, and young males with their Billy Idol bleached porky pine spiked chili bowl hair do!

Right has not changed and wrong has not changed just because you enter into a different century. Black is still black and white is still white. Good is still good and bad is still bad. Legalism is not the faithful man of God who cries aloud against sin.

Was Paul a legalist when he told men not to have long hair in I Corinthians chapter 11? Was Paul a legalist when he told the ladies not to have short hair in the same chapter? Sit still and read the rest of the article before you become mad!

Was Moses a legalist when he said, “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not steal,” or when he said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery?” Was Paul a legalist when he said in I Timothy chapter 3 that the deacon should not be double tongued, or when he said a deacon should be the husband of one wife, or should be honest, or should be temperate?

Was Paul a legalist in I Timothy chapter 3 when he said the pastor should be sober, or the husband of one wife, or not greedy of filthy lucre? Was Titus a legalist if he obeyed the Apostle Paul in Titus chapter 2 when he told the aged men to be sober, grave, temperate, sound, loving, patient and the aged women to be holy and temperate? Was he a legalist when the told the young ladies to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, obedient to their husband, and the young men to be sober and of sound speech?

….

As a result in our day, we find ourselves not fighting the vehicle of formalism; as Dr. John Rice boldly put at the top of his SWORD OF THE LORD paper in a banner. We find ourselves fighting INFORMALISM. The pendulum has swung to another extreme with the same cry against the rest of us who hold our feet to the fire on being separatist and are being called “legalist.”

It takes more than facial hair to make a man. Your flowery shirts and glass pulpits are not impressing the Holy Spirit at all. Your “worship teams” disguised as a singing group are not fooling anyone. , especially the Holy Spirit of God. Your colored lights to get the atmosphere you want is insulting to the Holy Spirit. When you decided to secretly follow Rick Warren you had to embrace the tactic of calling the rest of us “legalists.” You are substituting convenience for conviction.

….

God’s people have a choice! You can be free inside of the walls or you can be enslaved outside the walls. It bothers me when I hear God’s people using liberty as a license to sin. Liberty is inside of the Laws of God and not outside of the Laws of God. Every commandment, rule, or standard of God has been given for one purpose and that is to build walls around his people especially the young people.

Liquor, dope, elicit sex, Hollywood, cigarettes, bad music, etc., enslaves and is addictive. God’s do’s and don’ts build walls of protection for his people!

If fundamentalism is not careful we will lose everything that is near and dear to us! Being a fundamentalist is more than believing salvation by grace, verbal inspiration, plenary inspiration, preserved inspiration, virgin birth, sinless life of Christ, security of the believer, and vicarious death of Christ. Being a fundamentalist also includes having some rules and standards to live by so we can be free.

Those rules are bricks in a mighty wall that has been built by our founding fathers so that we might have a place of freedom in this world of slavery. Rules and standards have never enslaved for the truth is they liberate for all that enslaves has been placed outside the wall.

We know cigarettes enslave so we put nicotine warnings on the outside of the packages so why shouldn’t God’s people put them outside the wall. The same is true of marijuana, liquor, and dope.

….

I thank God every day for an old-fashioned wall building Mama, teachers, and preachers! Thank God for wall building schools, colleges, churches, Bible Conferences, and leaders who stand firm inside the walls. This is not legalism but rather it is liberty!

We need the walls to remain strong so that our young people can stay innocent and remain fearful of an enemy that lurks on the outside of the walls of protection where there is the bondage of compromise. Give me liberty inside of the walls.

The rules must be consistent between the pulpit, parent, and peer pressures. If all three are going in the same direction and provide the same consistency the odds are in favor of the follower being allowed to make right decisions! Liberty or legalism?

James Dennis, Bob Gray, Sr. and a cast of thousands would argue that keeping church standards doesn’t save anyone; that their standards are simply a statement of how Good Christians® should live their lives. However, in the real world, these legalistic standards are used to determine who is and isn’t a Real Christian®. Real Christians® will live according to church’s standard, uh I mean the teachings of the Bible. Real Christians® will want to willingly obey their pastor’s dictates. (It is always the pastor who determines what an IFB church’s standards will be. His words are law.) Real Christians® will live Christlike before the world, willingly dressing and behaving in ways that make them stand out.

When saved people refuse to obey, there is doubt cast upon their salvation. These doubts, of course, are rarely uttered aloud. Instead, they become fodder for gossip or Wednesday night prayer meeting. We visited one church where a mother stood before the church and detailed the “sinful” behavior of her adult son who just so happened to be in the service. He quietly bore her excoriation, yet I have no doubt that he wished she would shut the hell up. I felt embarrassed for the man. I have seen similar behavior in IFB prayer meetings where the “backslidden” ways of this or that church member were aired as “prayer requests.” What is implicit in these things is that the person mentioned has a “doubtful” salvation. Those truly saved, would live according to the church’s standards. That they don’t is a sure sign that something spiritually wrong with them; perhaps they aren’t even saved.

IFB preachers who deny that they are legalists will often say, it is up to God to save them on the inside and clean them up on the outside. While this statement sounds good, in the real world, new converts are expected, over time, to strictly obey church standards. If new Christians are reading the Bible, praying, and attending church every time the doors are open, it shouldn’t take a long time for the newly saved to see the “wisdom” of following their church’s code of conduct. A failure to do so means the person is backslidden, not right with God, worldly, or some other negative label. If change is not effected, pastors and their devoted rules-keepers will begin to wonder if so-and-so is r-e-a-l-l-y a Christian.

It is actually quite easy to “test” whether an IFB preacher is a legalist. Just ask him if a lesbian Christian can be a member, or if a Christian woman who recently had an abortion can join the church. Ask him if a woman who wears mini-skirts and low-cut blouses can be a part of their club, or if a man with hair down to the middle of his back can lead the congregation in prayer. Such questions will likely be answered in the negative, thus proving that IFB preachers really don’t leave it to God to clean up people on the outside. That’s their job, shaping them into the kind of Christians “God’ wants them to be. Offenders will be called into the principal’s, I mean’s pastor’s office and educated about how the pastor, uh I mean God, expects them to live. Make no mistake about it, the message is clear: You say you are a Christian, then LIVE like it, and living like means following the church standards established by Christ’s representative on earth, the pastor.

I hope that former IFB church members have some stories to share about legalism and church standards. If so, please share them in the comment section.

Note

I should mention that, according to the gospel preached by James and John, a case can be made for works being required for salvation. James said, faith without works is dead (has not life). I’m inclined to think that, according to some parts of the Bible, that there is a direct connection between how people live and what they believe. We reveal our character by how we live, not by what we say.

Bruce Gerencser