About two years ago, after going through a lot of emotional, theological, philosophical and social turmoil, we made a decision to stop attending the church which we attended for years. Well, making such a decision was easier than facing the first Sunday after that. The first Sunday came quickly, than I thought. As usual I woke up that day, ready to face the reality that we were not going to church. It was okay at first, but then as the time approached 10:30, I started becoming restless. I couldn’t believe I wasn’t in the church service at 10:30. I felt awkward and nervous; my heart started beating so fast and I even thought something bad is going to happen to us. My mind wandered and I imagined my kids being afflicted with sickness due to God’s anger on us.
Through the debates, conflicts, discussions, reading, listening and thinking God showed me that He never intended His grace to be mixed with law in any form, at any cost. I was convicted and confident when I made the decision to stay out of church. But it wasn't as easy as I thought. So many years of faulty teaching patterned in my brain and on that Sunday everything came to the surface. I was filled with fear. I wasn't sick, I wasn't out of town and I had no other excuse not to attend church other than my own conviction that everything I was taught in the church over the years was dead wrong.
Finally I ran to my computer to listen to some sermons online! I thought I will pass out if I don’t do at least that part of my Sunday routine. My wife went to the basement to sing songs and worship. We both tried to imitate church at home. I was like a nicotine addict who didn’t have a Cigarette to smoke – sweating and all that stuff. So, I listened to Bob George on realanswers.net and felt little relieved, but still not settled, after all it is still my home, not the 'House of the Lord'!
People say once we are out of an addiction, we will never have a temptation. I don’t agree to them. I quit smoking 6 years ago, but I can still, even today, light up a Cigarette and smoke right away.
The second Sunday wasn’t as bad as the first and eventually the pressure melted down. The process of unlearning started, the detox process from a deadly addiction. A very painful process. I admit I still struggle with it. We attended a community church once in a while just to gratify some of our old religious patterns. But when they mix law and grace, I could hardly sit there.
Knocking legalism off our head is a long process, in most cases. The people who come out of legalistic churches go through a lot of stress and I think it is okay to give them some room to heal. I can’t expect them to get going with grace in full-fledge all of a sudden. They might keep going back and forth between law and grace and that is okay as well.
As I was reading through the book of Acts, couple of incidents really stuck out. Such as the below:
Paul wanted to take him [Timothy] along on the journey, so he circumcised him – Acts 16
This is after Paul’s conversion and he is in full swing on preaching and teaching.
The next day Paul took the men and purified [a Jewish religious custom] himself along with them. – Acts 21
It could be, Paul himself was going through a process of shedding his religion or he was being gentle with Jews in order to earn their trust or to reduce the intensity of rebellion from Jews.
Either way, Paul knew how hard it is for a hardcore Jew to accept the salvation by grace when in all their life time they were taught, brain-washed and indoctrinated on the law. I think he was trying to give them some room. It's not really tolerating legalism but tolerating the legalists who are pathetically caught up in the bondage.
It is the same Paul who taught fervently about the danger of mixing law and grace, in the book of Galatians. He even called them ‘Foolish’ since some of them tried to mix law with grace.
Matthew, in his recent post called Getting Grounded, said:
I realized Jesus gave His disciples time to transition from Law to Grace. He wanted to lay the foundation of love and not duty. Of Grace and not Law.
Jesus was patient with His friends, to allow them to grow in Grace and in the knowledge of Him.
I think, we all, in one way or other, responded in anger - overturning the tables. But, laying the foundation in the solid teaching of grace and unconditional love of God is, in most cases, a long process and this realization alone gives me some patience on others who still struggle with legalism and bondage in their life.