There are many dangers to the Church today, the main one of which is false teaching corrupting it from within and without. However, I think there are two other deadly dangers which severely damage the church and its message: legalism and syncretism.
Now there are four main understandings about legalism, some of which include false teachings:
1. Keeping the law as a means of salvation. (e.g. Rom. 3:28; Gal. 2:16)
2. Keeping the law’s letter without keeping its “spirit.” (e.g. Mk. 2:23-3:6)
3. Building a “fence” of unnecessary, extra-biblical laws around Biblical laws. (e.g. Matt. 15:3-9; 23:16-24).
4. Imposing obsolete, O.T. requirements on N.T. believers. (e.g. Rom. 14:1-23; Heb.8:13)
Now, it is easy to see how false teachings under these standards can be fairly easily seen. But what about what is sometimes called “judgmentalism”?
Chuck Swindoll had a good description in his book, Grace Awakening. He said, “Legalism is an attitude, a mentality based on pride. It is an obsessive conformity to an artificial standard for the purpose of exalting oneself… Legalism says, ‘I do this or I don’t do that, and therefore I am pleasing to God.’”
It is one thing for this attitude to be focussed on oneself, but it is another thing when directed at those in the church. I have known of “seekers” who have quit going to church for this reason; I know of many people who were new/immature believers who quit attending church for this reason. Both type have a bad taste left in their mouths.
Let me give some examples as to what I’m referring here:
A young man has tattoos or earrings and is condemned, or just snubbed.
A single mom is condemned for promiscuity.
People are condemned for how they are dressed.
People are condemned for unbiblical beliefs.
Women condemned for short hair, men condemned for long hair.
A person with yard gnomes is told they are idols and they shouldn’t have them.
I think you get the picture. Seekers may have a lot of unholy fashions, language, ideas, etc., which need to be dealt with in love and compassion as they are led to understanding their need of a Savior. New believers may have bodily reminders of a life before they were saved and need reassurance that the sins which led to those decisions are forgiven. New/immature believers need solid biblical instruction and discipleship to help them learn why some of the stuff they believe is incorrect. New/immature believers need counsel if their fashions are immodest. Other things are Romans 14 issues which need to be let alone rather than judging the person for their beliefs and practices.
Now let’s look at syncretism. This again can have many connotations, such as the Emergent movement’s bringing in contemplative prayer and other Catholic mysticism, or such as the new movement known as “Chrislam.” Others of this type try to meld with pagan belief systems such as various American Indian beliefs or even Hinduism. Movements which bring in this type of heresy as part of their syncretism are, again, easy to point out as the false teaching which they are.
The subtle syncretism is more serious because it weakens the message of the Gospel while not being as readily discernible, and can very well eventually lead the assembly into apostasy and even heresy. These types of ideas which are syncretized have more to do with the ideology of the world. Here are some examples:
1. The “social gospel” is one of the worst, and may not even be considered syncretism, rather it is really a separate system completely distorting the gospel message. However, often just aspects of this system are syncretized into an otherwise fundamental assembly, and while not distorting the Gospel, it weakens it.
2. Pop-psychology is an insidious movement easily syncretized with Christianity because we have all been brainwashed into accepting its precepts. So-called “Christian psychologists” such as James Dobson, Larry Crabb, et al are guilty of this type of syncretizing. Sometimes Bible teachers also bring in this type of teaching, as I have demonstrated in my articles on Beth Moore’s studies. Many of the programs for church youth groups are rife with pop-psychology, leading to the “dumbing down” of our youth. An excellent book on this subject is Spiritual Junk Food, by Cathy Mickels & Audrey McKeever.
3. Bringing in the world’s culture, including its entertainment methods is really nothing more than syncretizing Christianity with the culture around us. And the culture selected is often self-focused. When a worship service seems to be no different than a rock concert, then the culture has been syncretized into that service. “Seeker-sensitive” assemblies are guilty of this carnage.
Of these two dangers, it’s sometimes difficult to decide which is worse. Legalism can prevent people from coming to the Lord as well as chase immature believers into isolation so they can’t grow in their faith. Possibly syncretization is the worst because it waters down the Gospel message and dumbs down the members of the assembly, leaving solid meat in the dust.
Either way, I have known people spiritually harmed by both. Do you have observations of these two dangers and which you’d consider worse?