Thursday, 28 May 2015

Checklist for Legalists

Gary Leonard over at his excellent post-WCG blog links to a column by Stephen Smith which helpfully provides a checklist so you can determine whether you're a Christian legalist or not.

It's an interesting list, but a couple of notes of caution.

First Stephen is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, an uncompromisingly rigid institution which delights in giving comfort and succour to every foul and unclean bird that roosts in the boughs of brain-dead fundamentalism.

Whew, it feels good to get that off my chest first!

Second, it seems somewhat counter-intuitive to create a checklist to measure - of all things - legalism. I mean, it's legalists themselves who practice yardstick religion.

With those qualifications, here's Stephen's list:
1. I am continually scandalized by the driving habits of others. Yes or No.
2. I believe that God loves me more when I behave. Yes or No.
3. When I write a check to my church, I tithe to the penny. Yes or No.
4. I entirely avoid alcohol, makeup, or jewelry out of fear of contamination. Yes or No.
5. I usually stand out from the crowd because of my formal or conservative attire. Yes or No.
6. When I encounter another professing Christian, I find myself judging their appearance. Yes or No.
7. My good friends are all from one church or denomination. Yes or No.
8. When I miss a Sunday service, I feel guilty. Yes or No.
9. When I miss any church activity, I feel guilty. Yes or No.
10. There are only a few Bible teachers who truly teach God’s Word. Yes or No.
11. When I sin, I feel guilty even after I ask God to forgive me. Yes or No.
12. I believe that small children should behave like miniature adults. Yes or No.
13. In a snow-covered parking lot, I feel anxious because I can’t see the parking lines. Yes or No.
14. When someone gives me a gift or does something kind for me, I feel unsettled until I can reciprocate. Yes or No.
15. I always clean my house thoroughly before anyone visits—even if they’re just popping by. Yes or No.
16. I want my children to avoid contact with sinful people. Yes or No.
17. I prefer to do things myself rather than accept help from people who are sloppy or less conscientious than I am. Yes or No.
18. There is a right way and a wrong way to do everything. Yes or No.
19. I believe that God is most glorified through my preferred style of music. Yes or No.
20. I believe that all scripture is equally applicable to my life. Yes or No.
21. I have had several conversion experiences but still doubt my salvation. Yes or No.
22. I have a sneaking suspicion that if Jesus returned while I was sinning, I would go to hell. Yes or No.
23. I take pleasure in reporting or punishing people who commit minor infractions. Yes or No.
24. I like to make an example out of wrongdoers. Yes or No.
25. I feel guilty when I exceed the speed limit by even a few miles per hour. Yes or No.
26. I avoid certain behaviors primarily because they are wrong, rather than because they are harmful. Yes or No.
27. I feel morally obligated to finish every book I start. Yes or No.
28. Others could describe me as bitter and depressed rather than joyful and kind. Yes or No.
29. I feel unlucky or cursed if I skip Bible reading or prayer. Yes or No.
30. I believe that God is more like a policeman and less like a fireman. Yes or No.
Honestly, if your Yes score is greater than five, I'd suggest you seek therapy. My score was just one (living in a temperate climate I couldn't really identify with #13, but suspect I'd lean to Yes). Some didn't make too much sense, though they might if - God forbid - I was living in the American Midwest - or had studied for a Th.M from DTS. Overall I think this list measures something other than 'legalism' (maybe neuroticism) but, hey, what do I know?

So what's your score out of thirty?


  1. 1 yes, and a couple of 'maybe's

  2. When I was in the WCG, most of the people I knew would score more than 20 on this kind of test. They either talked about these things or their behavior displayed these principles. A friend once wrote me and said that Christianity was inherently legalistic because it involved laws, therefore how could I single out the WCG as being legalistic. But I think the scope of the term is different from that for most of us:

    1. Legalism refers to the idea that keeping the law is a factor in the equation of salvation at parity with faith. Works of the law act synergistically with faith to produce salvation. This is an heresy. This error forms the foundation of Jesus Plus Cults, of which the WCG was one. In their simplest form, these cults deny the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice. Recall how the WCG was preoccupied with the laws and statutes, the Old Testament, Moses and God the Father. Christ got mentioned mostly around Passover and his message of grace greatly suppressed (Look in HWAs book The Mystery of the Ages and you will find one tiny anemic reference to a limited form of grace yet grace is the principle that most sharply separates Christianity form other religions.)

    2. For Christian churches that have the faith and works issue properly sorted out, there is still a form of legalism. They may pay lip-service to the idea of grace but their focus is on performance. They have committed to Christianity as a competitive sport and have let faith atrophy.

    Both of these forms of legalism are great for people with OCD. They have everything: laws, commandments, ceremonies, accumulation of merits, judging others, guilt and fear. But Smith left out some of the big ones for the WCG: minutes of prayer, frequency of fasting, minutes of meditation and minutes of Bible Study. I remember when I was still an Armstrongite, if I were not up on daily prayer, I would become practically incapacitated. Prayer was the WCG talisman that one could not be without. (I recall back in the early Seventies at Big Sandy one afternoon, David Havir went into a prayer closet in one of the men's dorms and shouted and moaned and beat on the walls. He was giving us an droll example of what some students did as a badge of merit.)

    -- Neo