"The church, by and large, has had a poor record of encouraging freedom. She has spent so much time inculcating in us the fear of making mistakes, that she has made us like ill-taught piano students: we play our songs, but we never really hear them because our main concern is not to make music but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." Robert Capon
I can't tell you how true this has often been of my church life. And by church life I don't only mean when I participate in an official church function. I also include my interaction with other Christians in any forum, including informal get-togethers, my blog and other internet discussions. What starts off as a desire not to offend turns into a prison - with the easily offended standing as guards - the "weaker brother" holding the keys. There's a name for what happens when the weak run the church: Legalism. I feel I can say this, because I've been this person, and felt the curse of legalism, not the least in the loss of hope and joy.
"For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.' Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law; for 'He who through faith is righteous shall live'; but the law does not rest on faith, for 'He who does them shall live by them.' Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us - for it is written, 'Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree' - that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." Gal. 3:10-14 RSV (emphasis mine)But there is an even greater reason to take a fierce stance against all legalism:
"You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace." Gal. 5:4Nor are we saved by faith and then sanctified by legalism. Paul calls those who hold to that view "foolish" :
"Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so many things in vain? - if it really is in vain. Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?" Gal. 3: 2-5These are strong words. We must not allow ourselves to be enslaved under the yoke of legalism. We must strive for the freedom that is only found in Christ.
"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of bondage." Gal. 5:1Whatever yoke of bondage we submit to, is the yoke we will burden others with as well. We will become bound up and lifeless and will come to despise and seek to destroy the freedom we see in others. And, as we succeed in doing this, little by little, soul by soul, the grace and life drains from the church, and we are left with the curse of slavery - awaiting someone to bring us the Gospel.