Productive Wilderness Life Series (Part 4) – Integrating the Father’s Love
Defining legalism as authoritarianism is interesting.
Defining Legalism is interesting to consider in the light of authoritarian issues. If you consider the characteristics of an abusive authoritarian father or mother, they are the same as you find in a controlling, legalistic, abusive church environment.
I ministered to a pastor’s son who grew up in this type of environment. His father was angry, legalistic, and abusive. Bathing suits, secular music, television, and even Christmas celebrations were all off limits and harshly judged. This pastor talked a lot about holiness requirements but walked in very little love and compassion toward others.
These harsh environments are judgmental and shaming. People existing in these environments constantly fear being judged so they learn to live by secrecy. Transparent, intimate relationships don’t exist.
Why do people fall into this legalistic behavior?
Control Issues for Defining Legalism
People battle legalism out of a need to be in control. A person controls because deep down they feel fearful of not measuring up to God’s standards or of being hurt emotionally through rejection or abandonment. They haven’t learned to allow God’s love to keep them safe and so they use control tactics.
Control manifests in two ways, overt and covert. This is what many call “fight or flight.” We try to use anger, snide remarks, judgments, sarcasm, even violence to get people to cooperate with us (overt), or we disappear, become passive aggressive, or use the silent treatment (covert). Also covertly, we hide or don’t “show up.”
And all of us, when triggered, can fall into these behaviors.
Can you allow God to stretch you into facing ways you struggle with being authoritarian?
Consider the quote below as an interesting way of defining legalism:
“Measurement of tendencies toward authoritarianism has long been a favorite procedure of social psychologists and sound tests of the trait have been available for many years. Measuring tendency toward black and white judgment, tendency to be suspicious or negative about anyone who is different, the insistence on systems of absolute obedience, and the presumption that one set of standards would be best for everything, everywhere, for everyone.” (Ward)
Again, these traits can be seen in hurt, abusive people as well as legalistic church settings. Principles are principles. Fearful people have standard ways they respond to protect themselves and get their needs met.
However, when we allow and cooperate with God stretching us, we grow and find freedom and love.
“The stretching process produces an acceptance of others and their faults and an increased ability in us to share our own autonomy,” i.e.— Sonship. (Ward p.13)
This is integrating God’s love at a heart level. With integration comes a deep acceptance of others, an understanding of their struggles, an ability just to listen with no need to talk or control conversation and yet no haughtiness, and an ability to share of myself with anyone at any level of maturity or socio-economic standing.
Next time we’ll consider sonship identity issues in the light of legalism and how to overcome.