Sunday, June 22, 2014

Someone recently wrote asking for our family's opinion of contemporary Christian music and women wearing only skirts and dresses. Our reply follows: 

Timmy and I (Joy) have a unique perspective on this topic because we are from a denomination that encourages women to wear skirts and considers contemporary Christian music (CCM) to be undesirable for healthy Christian growth. Having been very familiar with those teachings for most of my life, I have observed some things that I'd love to share with you.

My family didn't attend church until I was 11 when my step-dad who was saved but not walking with the Lord decided we'd all go to church for the first time on Christmas morning. A friend of my sister's had been inviting us to her church so we went there. 

We went back the following Sunday and my mom, sister, and I were saved and my step-dad rededicated his life to Christ. What I observed over the next year or so in my parents' transformed lives made an indelible mark on my life. 

Instead of spending Sundays boating and being surrounded by lots of drinking, church was now the highlight of our weekend. 

My step-dad, who enjoyed fixing up cars, bought a passenger van and began a Sunday School route picking up the friends we had invited from school. 

My mom, who I would have described as sullen and borderline depressed, became so full of joy and contentment. She would hum as she worked around the house and she smiled all the time.

As I headed into my teen years, the pull of my flesh was much greater than my desire to walk with God. Although I was always very compliant and didn't ever want to cause my parents any pain, I chose a path of deception and waywardness that broke their hearts. As a result, I was sent to our denomination's Christian school when I was in the 9th grade.

Timmy, whose church it was that we attended that Christmas morning when we were both 11 years old, also appeared to be a good boy but his path was similar to mine in that his heart was more focused on pleasing his flesh than the Lord. His parents sent him to the same Christian school when he was a senior.

It's interesting that we both had very similar experiences when we arrived at the school although we came a few years apart from one another. The chapel services were convicting as the preacher would talk about what they believed turning from sin and setting ourselves apart from the world looked like. Both Timmy and I, at separate times, chose to follow the path they set out for us. We each got rid of our music and did our best to do what the pastor suggested. 

It was the most dangerous time in my entire life. 

I now know what was occurring. My ears were being tuned to the pastor's preferences and standards and deafened to the Holy Spirit and His words to me for my life.

The young adults around us were all in various stages of following the pastor and thinking it was the path to victorious Christian living, falling away from the rules, repenting, then following the rules once again. No one could hear or discern the Holy Spirit's voice. 

I believe the only thing that saved me from ruin was my parents' testimonies. They never did stray from the Holy Spirit's path for them. They would ask God if it was wrong to do this thing or that, and if the Lord said it was not an offense to Him, they would follow God instead of man. They did it with humility and quietness, never flaunting their freedom in Christ, while allowing others to adhere to dress codes and music standards that they believed helped them in their walk. They were in every way non-judgmental of their fellow believers.

Having been in the opposite position of my parents in regard to following the denomination's preferences, I couldn't help but look around, when taught that particular standards are part of victorious living, at the others who weren't abiding by the rules and wonder how they could appear to have a close walk with God. I assumed either they weren't enlightened yet to understand what God "requires" or they were walking in disobedience. 

And that is where the hook is found. In following my church's teachings that are common to my denomination but not necessarily common to the victorious-living Christian body as a whole, I subject myself to the deafening process I described while also developing a sense of pride, albeit unintentionally, because I suppose I am more enlightened than the everyday, simple-minded believer. And if Satan can cause me to be proud, even over living a more separated life, he has the foothold he needs to take me down.

Satan doesn't care what type of bondage he uses to enslave believers. Some are easy prey to the slavery of self indulgence. They can't discipline themselves to deny their flesh so Satan imprisons them in their own bodies as they serve themselves and their selfish desires.

Others aren't as susceptible to a lack of self control so Satan sends a different agent to capture the believer, leaving them just as powerless and useless for the Lord. The bondage is called legalism and it is fueled by what appears to be a fervent desire to follow God in every area of their lives.

We know a group that fit this category well. They were as zealous for the Lord as any group you'd ever want to meet. So much so that they guarded even the guardrail areas of their lives so they wouldn't even come close to falling off the edge. Unfortunately, the extra precautionary measures that they used became the focus of their lives. In time they invested more energy into following their rules than they did pursuing a relationship with Christ. An unintended consequence was that they also became judgmental of the believers who were not adhering to the extra precautionary measures. And that is when Satan took them over - when they became proud of how holy and religious they were.

You know this group of people as well as I do. They are called the Pharisees. In their narrow-minded view of how to live a godly life, they rejected the Author of Christianity. They dismissed Jesus because He didn't follow the rules they had established. Their rules blinded them to the voice of God and they eventually killed Jesus who came to give them real life.

There is a way to know if you are around believers who are leaning toward legalism. Do they accept completely and wholeheartedly someone who says they've studied the scripture, prayed, and sought the guidance of other believers and they have decided the wife and daughters will continue to wear pants and shorts and as a family they will promote CCM throughout their household?

All legalists will accept someone who they feel has not yet reached the enlightened stage. They will even reach out to the outcasts of society to evangelize and help them. But the end point must be conformance to the church's standards. To simply say that the Holy Spirit has led you to a different conclusion will not satisfy the true legalist. He will not consider you capable in your ability to hear from God and will dismiss you as an incompetent believer.

We have observed three primary types of people who are drawn into legalism above a relationship with Christ. The first is the person who truly loves God and is very appreciative for their salvation. They will do anything and everything they can to please the Lord. If they hear of this standard or that, they quickly submit to the pastor's guidelines as they see no sacrifice too big to give for the God who saved them. The second type of believer is one who struggles fiercely to bring their flesh under Christ's control. They see a legalistic church as a prison they enter voluntarily in hopes of it helping them better control their flesh. The third group that we've observed is parents who are fearful that their children will fall away from Christ. These parents are drawn to a church that promotes rule-keeping in hopes that it will come alongside them in keeping their children far from the enemy's reach.

Almost 40 years of observing Christian life in the church has caused us to notice something else recently. Dedicated believers in Christ who truly, wholeheartedly want to serve God, are searching fervently to find like-minded believers. These couples are tired of nominal Christianity and lukewarm churches and they want something more for themselves and their children. 

The families are thrilled to find a good church with high standards, sound preaching, and people who love the Lord. These moms and dads are often first generation genuinely committed Christians whose parents raised them in lukewarm churches. Having come from mediocrity, their search for a truly dedicated group of believers with which to worship is all the more urgent. 

Sadly, many of them are stumbling into the very churches we had to break free from in order to hear Jesus' voice above a man's. But they don't know it. 

This would describe the parents of most of our friends who attended the Christian school with Timmy and I. Their parents were gloriously saved and there was nothing they wouldn't do in sincere gratitude and love for the Lord. The standards didn't phase them. They gave up everything the church suggested would help them live victoriously. They gave it up gladly. Their love for the Lord was forever new and fresh as first generation committed Christians.

However, the second generation - their children - did not fare well. Not having had the dramatic salvation or rededication story of their parents but rather being subjected to the deafening of the Holy Spirit's voice, through the constant practice of equating a victorious walk with God to following man-made preferences, they were left blind and hopeless. The vast majority, actually almost all the students in our graduating class, have completely left the church - completely. No God at all. 

They never could quite measure up to the church's definition of "good" or "holy" and they finally gave up. Some gave up while at Bible college. Some gave up several years and babies into marriages. An entire wasteland of people whose ears were deafened to the Holy Spirit until the enemy's voice was loud enough to lead them into slavery.

May we be wise to the schemes of the enemy - whether they be evidenced in the obvious destruction of a godless, sin-saturated life or the subtle devastation of the legalistic church - as both smell of the pit.