Legalism and the Christian School Movement, Part 2

Note: Reading Part 1 of this series is recommended before reading Part 2.


In the introductory article to this series, I suggested that Christ’s confrontations with the Pharisees are a valid source for determining whether or not we are practicing legalism. I was not writing at all from the “all Fundies are Pharisees” perspective so frequently employed against Fundamentalists. I assume that the prominent place the Pharisees have, and that our Lord’s rebukes of them have, in the Gospels suggests that our Lord is broadly concerned with such legalism. I believe these texts serve as a warning to all of us because legalism is entrenched deep in the fallen human heart and easily expresses itself in the lives of the redeemed unless we are very careful.


In the first article, I admitted there are many fine Christian schools which do not operate in a legalistic fashion. But I believe that the majority of Christian schools operate with three fallacious legalistic premises prominent in their thinking.

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Legalism and the Christian School Movement, Part 1


Last May, discussion here at SI about Heritage Christian School in Findlay, OH and the senior who chose a public high school prom over his own graduation ceremony revealed a rift on the issue of legalism. The majority were certainly comfortable with the rule against students attending a high school prom. But some thought such rules were legalistic. While I have had some deep misgivings about the rules culture in Fundamentalist schools over the years, a recent three-year study of Luke helped me to crystallize my views on this. During this study, I spent much time reflecting on our Lord’s confrontations with the Pharisees.

At this moment, most of you want to skip this post. “Oh, it’s the old ‘all Fundies are Pharisees’ argument,” is what you’re probably thinking. Nothing could be further from my intentions. It’s clear to me that our Lord did not cause an enormous volume of His teachings against the Pharisees to be preserved for the ages merely to warn us about a sect that would be extinct by AD 136. These teachings serve as a warning to all of us who are “religious” (in the nicest sense of the word). Legalism is entrenched deep in our hearts. It is a strong tendency in all humanity, at one level or another. It is basic to all false religions and creeps into adherents of true religion unless we are very careful.

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Confessions of a Recovering Legalist

Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted by permission from Getting Somewhere.

Don't ListHi, I’m Brent. And I am a recovering legalist. I’m looking for a support group for people like me.

I grew up in a Christian home, had parents who loved me and loved God. I went to church every Sunday, learned all the stories, gave my offerings—even went off to a Christian college. And I loved God—and I still do. But I had a problem— legalism. I didn’t know it was a problem, at least not for a long time.

I was addicted to “the list.” The list was made up of all the things that you were supposed to do and not supposed to do if you wanted to keep God happy with you. Most of the things on the list were good things—some of them even came right out of the Bible. But some of them didn’t. They were passed along to me from several sources, but mostly from the traditions of the church. Since I am not much of a rebel by nature, I had no problem with keeping the list. The problem was what the list did to my Christianity. It became way too much about performance, and not enough about reality. And “spirituality” became more of an issue of conformity than obedience.

And the list led to “the line.” The line was somewhere on the list. When a person kept enough of the list to make it to the line, he could feel good about himself, and about his supposed relationship with God. By measuring up to the line, a person could feel like he was good with God. And he could also feel like he was better than others. Think of it as spiritual arrogance.

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