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The Christian ‘Cult’ Of Legalism - Part 1

The title of this “Theology & Culture” blog, the first of three such ones, may seem a little problematic or make us wonder how we could use the term “Christian” and “cult” together. My goal is to explain what I mean by this and give some examples of how it is possible for these words to interlink.

It is important that we define the word “cult.” In its basic meaning we are talking about any group that has rejected the historic beliefs of the church. For example, they deny the Biblical view of the Trinity and specifically, Jesus Christ. They teach a works-oriented salvation. They have extra-biblical writings that are put on an equal par with Scripture or placed above God’s Word. They have nothing in common with the Christian faith that began in the first century.

The church, historically, believes in one God Who is Three Persons. Yes, it is to hard to grasp but true nonetheless. We believe that Jesus is eternal God Who came to earth (Jn. 1:1,14), died on a cross for our sins and rose from the dead to give us eternal life. That relationship with Him comes only by putting our faith and trust in Him and what He did for us. Salvation is in a Person, not in anything we do. We also are emphatic in our belief that Jesus was born of a Virgin.

We believe the Bible is God’s final revelation to man and that it is without error and inspired. We also reject all other writings that claim to be inspired, for God has spoken once and for all through His Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Having noted these things, we want to circle back to the idea of cultism and how it has affected the church. There is more to the word than theological differences. You find that cults have leaders who claim to be “God’s anointed” ones and they must be listened to and followed, often to the point of unquestioned loyalty to those in charge. For after all, they have been placed where they are by God.

The non-theological side of “cultism” that I am speaking about deals with the social and leadership structure in the church world today that is seen in various ways, even among those who seem to have their theology right (to a point) but exhibit “cult like” tendencies in their churches.

Let me explain. Some pastors and ministry leaders expect people to “drink the Kool-Aid” of not only what they teach, but expect others to submit to their leadership as noted above. Others spew out questionable doctrines and beliefs in the Bible, yet people fear saying anything. Or they judge others based on their legalistic interpretations of Scripture (we will note an illustration of this shortly).

This may help. Some claim that anyone who uses any other Bible in their church that is not the King James Version is using a perversion of God’s Word. There is the “cult” of King-James-only people out there who look down on and question both the spirituality and love for God of others if those individuals happen to use a different Bible that is in actuality a good translation such as the English Standard Version, New American Standard, or New English Translation, to name just a few.

I speak firsthand on the issue of legalism. I remember being told many years ago that John MacArthur was a liberal because in a picture on the back of a commentary he wrote his hair touched his ears. How ridiculous. I found myself judging people who did not dress like they were supposed to for church, whatever that meant or if they didn’t (fill in the blank). My theology was right, but my social constructs and viewpoints were legalistic and cultic for often those who live this way look down on others, and this happens in churches. And it happened with me.

Let me give you an example regarding how “cultic legalism” can play out. Recently, First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana held a conference on creationism. (I will be writing a blog on a former pastor there who taught heresy, lived immorally and had people who follow him unquestionably who is still revered, even though he passed over two decades ago). It is important to understand that this church in Hammond is part of the IBF (Independent Fundamental Baptist) group.

Those involved in the IBF are a loose-knit group of churches who are hard core on their view that the King James Bible is the only God-inspired translation. One thing that we will note in one of the blogs is the “cheap grace” message preached by many within this movement. Basically their thinking is if you said a “sinner’s prayer,” no matter how you live after doing so, heaven is a guarantee. This is blatantly false as we shall show.

They are also very legalistic in how they view and treat people. The pastors of many of these churches run the show. Very few have elder boards who hold leaders accountable or have structures in place that are willing to challenge questionable behavioral beliefs or teachings.

Back to the conference noted. The current pastor of First Baptist of Hammond was called on the carpet because he allowed someone from the Creation ministry doing the conference who had “long hair” give a presentation. This pastor was vilified by another pastor who noted 1 Corinthians 11:14 which says that it is a shame for a man to have long hair and that “A long-haired hippie teaching in the pulpit is in direct contradiction to Scripture.” (more on that in a moment).

Anyway, this pastor who made this latter statement, Allen Domelle, who was at the conference, took to task this individual who had “long hair (I have read that the speaker has since cut his hair so as not to cause anyone any problems when he teaches at other places). I did see a picture of the guy Domelle was going off on, but I guess my view of long hair is different than his.

Anyway, Domelle also noted that the New International Version was used in a couple of the seminars at this conference which did not set well with him. Remember, IBF folks are KJV only. Here is what he wrote on his website which is called “Old Paths” regarding the use of the King James Bible, “If we are not willing to fight over God’s Word, then what will we fight over? Never are we to allow anyone in our pulpits that would use anything else other than God’s Word, the King James Bible.” (underline for emphasis is by me)

When we speak of “cultic” like behavior in some groups or individuals, we are talking about how in some situations people create a line based on what I believe is faulty interpretation of Scripture or manmade ideology like noted above. And, thus, when no one can reach that line or meet the criteria of these groups, you are judged. Straight and simple. Been there, done that.

I would like to finish this blog by looking at the passage in 1 Cor. 11:14. The issue revolves around what Paul means by men having “long hair.” In the ancient world, rulers and leaders often had short hair. We have no idea how long Jesus’ hair was and pictures portraying Him a certain way do not do justice to the Bible. Jesus was a Nazarene, not one Who took a Nazarite vow. If God was against men having long hair (whatever that may look like) He would not have instituted a Nazarite vow.

The ancient Spartans favored shoulder length hair which they tied up for battle and no one considered them effeminate. The issue in vs. 14 is over differentiating between male and female. It does not give a measuring stick for the length of a man’s hair. We will continue this and other issues in our next blog. I also realize that some people who read what we write will disagree and that is fine. I have wrestled with these issues and have come to the conclusions I have based on my attempt to understand Scripture, Bible translation work, etc. At times we may have to simply agree to disagree.

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