A legalistic church emphasizes externals and becomes preoccupied with trivial matters.
Captives in spiritual bondage need to be set free.
Pastors that demand obedience to church leadership instead of God need to be exposed. We were once in a church where the pastor made us ask permission to use the restroom—and often denied it!
The church was driven by a sense of obligation. Service was viewed as something we “had to do,” no exceptions. Condemning other churches was a weekly teaching from the pulpit. Condemning members that left the church was normal. No one ever spoke to ex-members.
How can you tell if your church is slipping into legalism or spiritual abuse? Pray for God to open your eyes and examine what you see:
- Do you see faith in God or dependency on church?
- Is everyone expected to obey rules and/or standards beyond scripture?
- Do you always feel condemned for falling short?
- Are church rules set and decisions made by one person or a small elitist group?
- Is guilt and shame used to manipulate members?
- Is there a constant feeling of anxiety and insecurity?
- Do they major on the minors? I.e., going to a movie is a horrible sin but showing love and mercy are overlooked.
- Are people who disagree with the rules automatically condemned?
- Was the church founded on pride and elitism, i.e., no others churches know the truth?
- Do they focus on things like trying to be good enough instead of faith alone in Christ alone for salvation?
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance.
The fruit of legalism is pride, self-righteousness, judgmental and critical attitudes, superiority, conflict, worry, demanding compliance, aggression, extremes, manipulation, elitism, and plain ol’ nastiness.
Religion tries to change people from the outside in; Jesus said to clean the inside first.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Mat 23:25
There are many good resources to help you get out or heal from legalism or spiritual abuse. Get out and start healing!
- Battered Sheep Ministry is a place of encouragement for sheep who have been wounded and victimized by authoritarian and legalistic churches.
- Spiritualabuse.org The focus of this site is spiritual abuse in Bible-based churches.
- Battered Into Submission: The Tragedy of Wife Abuse in the Christian Home by James Alsdurf and Phyllis Alsdurf
- Betrayal: A Novel by Randall Arthur
- Breaking the Bondage of Legalism: When Trying Harder Isn’t Enough by Neil T. Anderson, Rich Miller, Paul Travis
- Churches That Abuse by Ronald Enroth
- Damaged Disciples: Casualties of Authoritarian Churches and the Shepherding Movement by Ron and Vicki Burks
- The Drift into Deception: The Eight Characteristics of Abusive Christianity by Agnes C. Lawless, John W. Lawless
- Is Nothing Sacred?: The Story of a Pastor, the Women He Sexually Abused, and the Congregation He Nearly Destroyed by Marie Fortune
- Serpents in the Manger: Overcoming Abusive Christianity by Jerry L. Harris, Melody J. Milam
- The Pressure’s Off: There’s a New Way to Live by Larry Crabb (Excellent!)
- The Silent Killers of Faith: Overcoming Legalism and Performance-Based Religionby Stephen Crosby
- Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, The: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church by David Johnson, Jeff VanVonderen
- Tired of Trying to Measure Up: Getting Free from the Demands, Expectations, and Intimidation of Well-Meaning People by Jeff VanVonderen
- Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton
- Twisted Scriptures by Mary Alice Chrnalogar
- Wisdom Hunter: A Novel by Randall Arthur
This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. Matthew 15:8