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The Christian ‘Cult’ of Legalism - Part 2

The title of this “Theology & Culture” blog is the second of three articles that we will do on what may seem a little problematic, or make us wonder how we could use the terms “Christian” and “cult” together. As we begin part two of the topic, I want to quickly review what I mean by this title and give some examples of how it is possible for these words to interlink.


I would also encourage you to read the first article of this discussion either at the Oakridge Community Church website ( under our resources and “Theology and Culture” link, or on my personal page at which has part one under the “blog” tab.


Let us begin by once again defining 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. 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.


In addition, we who are Evangelical Christians believe the Bible is God’s final revelation to man   without error and inspired by Him (2 Timothy 3:16-17).


Now, let us circle back to our topic, “The Christian Cult of Legalism.” When we dive into some of the teachings, lifestyles, and leadership traits of some of those who claim to believe in the historic, fundamental doctrines of the church (they would hold to historic Christian beliefs but add things to these key tenets - we will explain what we mean), you discover some startling things.


Many of the pastors who ran or run these churches do so with an iron fist. Not all, but there are countless ones who do or did. The late Jack Hyles, former pastor of First Baptist of Hammond, Indiana, made the following statement regarding people judging him or anyone else, speaking of those in his position, for example. Read this carefully and then we will respond,


“You are to judge in that area and not in any other area...Not only are you not to take any action about things outside your own area, but YOU ARE NOT TO MAKE MENTAL JUDGMENTS OUTSIDE YOUR OWN AREA...As pastor, I am to rule (lead), and my followers or members are to follow...God says everybody is to have his own area of judgment, and nobody is to interfere with   anybody’s else’s area...It is not your job to figure out what the pastor ought to do in areas of his responsibilities. You are to judge only in your God-given areas...The Bible is telling us not to go into the other person’s area of judgment and criticize, even if we know the facts concerning a situation... Judging by hearsay and judging by fact are both wrong if it is outside of your area…”


If you read this closely, this is a dangerous statement. Note the portion that we underlined. Jack Hyles did not hold himself accountable to anyone. He ruled First Baptist, and statements like this are “cultic” in that it sets up one person as the final say on everything within a church.


1 Thessalonians 5:21 tells us to “test everything.” This refers to what someone is teaching but we must also be aware of the one who is doing the teaching. Are they Scriptural? Does the Word of God reveal itself in how they live? What sounds “off” theologically? What lines up with the Bible?


When we speak of the “Christian Cult of Legalism” this is one of the problems that is found in churches that I am speaking about. These types of pastors may have church boards but often those filling such roles simply rubber stamp whatever the pastor says or decides and if they do not, they will not be in their leadership position for long. I have read about this type of bullying leadership, and it happens in many churches, not just those that we would say were “legalistic.” It is dangerous.


I do see this attitude, though, in churches where one individual is basically running the show. They are not held accountable for their actions, and no one challenges their teachings. It is a fact that Jack Hyles carried on a decades long affair with a woman in his church. He also covered the many infidelities of his son David who had multiple affairs in the churches he pastored.


But people were so enamored by Hyles that they were afraid to call him out and when they did, they were blackballed. What I have just stated is available for anyone to discover. I am not saying that to make myself look good, but in fact, note it with fear and trembling, but this type of behavior and   control is common in many “Christian cult” churches. But by the grace of God, “there goes” any of us. We can all fall. This is simply an example of what can happen when power in a church is given to one person and everyone simply falls in line and there is no accountability.


Yet, as we look at the New Testament, we see that a plurality of elders were to lead the church. We note this in passages such as Titus 1:5 and Acts 20:28-31. There are elders who teach (1 Timothy 5:17) while others use their various gifts in different ways to honor God by overseeing the church. But nowhere is there this idea of a one-man show found in the New Testament.


We mentioned before that legalism is seen in all kinds of ways. Whether it be regarding how we dress for church, play cards, wear a tie, use a different translation of the Bible than the “King-James-Only” crew uses, you are judged for your spirituality on these types of things. Lines are drawn in the sand that are often manmade. Cults do this, but more emphatically so, because they deny every doctrine of the historic faith. When battling the “Christian Cult of Legalism,” they seem to have the right beliefs…but add expectations to you that are not Biblical and redefine at times, key words and teachings found in Scripture (more on this in the next blog).


And we must clarify one thing. Not all “legalistic” churches are independent, fundamental Baptists. Other churches outside of that name would fit with what we are saying, so we have to be careful not to pigeonhole entire denominations or affiliations. Leaders, teachers and churches must be looked at independently of each other, though there may be some groups where certain traits of what could be termed “cultish behavior and teaching” seem to exist more readily than others.


There are false teachings and other “signs” to keep in mind when determining whether a church has some cultic tendencies. In the remainder of this blog and part three of this series, we will focus on what those are. So, here we go and I do so understanding that there will be those who disagree with what follows. Note the following “teaching” found in some “Christian legalistic” churches:


1) The dogmatic belief that there is only one “God-inspired” Bible translation. Almost without exception, it is the King James Version of the Bible that is touted as the only true rendering of God’s Word. All other translations are tainted and untrustworthy. I wrote a couple of earlier “Theology and Culture” blogs on the topic of Bible translations. There are good and bad translations, but KJV-only people have made up their minds that no other translation is worth our time and they judge those who choose to use a different one as spiritually unwise or wrong.



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