Top 10 Signs You’re in a Legalistic Church

by | Apr 3, 2018 | Faith | 77 comments

10 signs you may be focused more on rules than on Jesus

Are you in a legalistic church? How can you know?

Yesterday I shared my experience with Teen Missions International back in the summer of 1986. It was very focused on authority and rules, and had very little grace.

And it was life sapping. Jesus, on the other hand, came to give us life, and to give it to us abundantly (John 8:32).

It’s the Easter season, and so it’s a great time to focus on what it means to live abundantly rather than under rules. Also, this is something I’m super passionate about, because so many of you who read this blog have sexual issues because of a history of legalism either in your church or in the way you were taught about sex and marriage. So I thought I would look this week at how to make sure that we’re not being led astray by dangerous philosophies or by dangerous groups.

And this is a serious thing! Like Paul said to the Galatians about legalism:

Galatians 1:6-9 (NIV)

 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! 
When we put up rules that replace grace in salvation, we sap life, we don’t give life. And that does not make Jesus happy!

So let’s look at 10 signs that the Christian community you’re in may be more focused on rules than on Jesus.

And I think I’m going to borrow from Jeff Foxworthy’s “you might be a redneck if” and do “you might be in a legalistic church if…” See if these resonate (and I sure hope for your sake that they don’t!). And while I’m talking about legalistic churches, this applies just as much to legalistic homeschooling groups, camps, or parachurch organizations. Here goes!

10 signs you may be focused more on rules than on Jesus

1. You might be in a legalistic church….if legitimate questions are framed as a faith issue

Have you ever been in a Sunday School class where the teacher asked a question, but there was really only one right answer? Gets boring awfully quickly, doesn’t it?

In many church cultures you can’t ask legitimate questions without receiving a tsk tsk or a worried look. If people can’t ask legitimate questions, then they can’t wrestle through issues and find God’s truth for themselves. Jesus embraced questions; legalistic churches silence them.

What does real faith look like? Faith allows questions. Legalistic churches do not.

2. You might be in a legalistic church….if there’s no room for respectful disagreement

Is every issue a gospel issue? If disagreeing on a single thing means that you’re not saved, then people can’t disagree.

I love this quote that has been attributed to Augustine.

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

If it’s in the Apostle’s Creed, then, yes, we must agree. If it’s not in the Apostle’s Creed, then let’s give each other freedom to believe other things. And in everything, let’s love each other, not judge each other.

To me, the classic current example is the 7-day old earth debate. That is not part of the Apostle’s Creed, and I know true Christians on both sides of the debate. But when you make believing a Young Earth, 7-day creation part of the gospel, then you inadvertently tell people that they’re not Christians just because they may believe something non-essential that’s different from you. We all have opinions on things, and that’s fine. But those opinions are just that–opinions. They do not mean that those who disagree are not Christian when it is not an essential issue.

3. You might be in a legalistic church….if they define things as “sin” that are simply differences of opinion

A friend of mine was once in a youth group where the leader taught that using a musical instrument was “sin”–anything other than a capella singing was wrong. At least they weren’t making it into a gospel issue (you could still be a Christian if you played the guitar), but they still called it sin.

Instead of piling on the sins, let’s look at how we can grow in love to others. Certainly some things are sins with no wiggle room. But not everything is a sin. And, indeed, the Bible actually says that those who view more things as sin are actually more IMMATURE in the faith, not more mature in the faith. In Romans 14, Paul writes about differences of opinion, saying that we should honour those whose faith is weaker.

Romans 14:1-2

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.

The weak one is the one with more rules! So be careful.

4. You might be in a legalistic church…if your church insists on a certain political stance

If your pastor tells you who to vote for, or insists that politics is a gospel issue, then the church may be legalistic. And don’t think that this mistake is only on the political right! I’ve seen it just as much on the political left. I believe that our faith must influence how we vote, absolutely. But I also believe that true Christians can have disagreements on politics. If your church merges with politics, that’s a red flag for legalism.

5. You might be in a legalistic church…if your church emphasizes who is “in” and who is “out”

Does your church take pride in being on the “inside track” with God? Do sermons and other teachings revolve around what is wrong with other so-called Christians, and how they aren’t true believers? Does your church insist on doing ministry on its own, or does it partner with other churches and denominations and charities? Again–this stance is present both on the right and the left.

Every Sunday my pastor prays for all the other churches worshipping God in our hometown, acknowledging that we are one body of Christ. Legalistic churches can’t do that, because they believe their rules matter too much.

6. You might be in a legalistic church….if constructive criticism is seen as a pride issue

All leaders will make mistakes. Godly leaders welcome feedback to hold them accountable. Legalistic leaders label any attempt to bring things to their attention as “rebellious”. And those who do brings things to the leaders’ attention are often gossiped about, maligned, or marginalized. My aunt and uncle were once expelled by a spiritually abusive pastor for trying to rein in his controlling behaviour. He was finally forced out of the church, but he left many hurt people in his wake.

Since the main goal of legalistic churches is getting people to follow their rules, then legalistic churches must maintain control of those in their congregation. Criticism simply can’t be tolerated, or else the rules themselves could be questioned.

7. You might be in a legalistic church if…obedience to established authority is seen as the same as obedience to God

Because legalistic churches demand control and authority, they often present obedience to established authority as the equivalent of obedience to God. So:

  • children must obey parents;
  • wives must obey husbands;
  • congregants must obey small group leaders, elders,
  • everybody must obey pastors!

More attention is focused on getting people to follow authority than it is on talking about what loving Jesus would look like.

Following authority is portrayed as more important than listening to the Spirit (because the Spirit would never tell you to do anything that went against authority). This leaves very little room for the Spirit to move, and teaches people not to practice spiritual discernment.

8. You might be in a legalistic church if…the sins most preached about are focused on the failings of the congregants in lower standing, rather than those in a higher standing.

Does your church focus more on railing against women’s immodesty than it does talking about men’s lust? Does your church talk more about children’s disobedience than it does the propensity of leaders to become prideful? Does your church focus on rebellion rather than on bullying behaviour? How about defining pride as what people exhibit when they disagree with authority, rather than what people exhibit when they are in authority? If it does–major red flag!

9. You might be in a legalistic church if….people are judged by the content of their theology rather than by the fruit that they demonstrate

Jesus said you know them by their fruit, but legalistic churches do not ask “What fruit are they showing?”. Instead, they insist most on doctrinal purity over demonstrated love.

The Together for the Gospel conference is the perfect example of this. For years, they covered for and promoted CJ Mahaney from Sovereign Grace Ministries, despite the fact that CJ has credibly been accused of covering up child sex abuse. But he preached the same doctrine that TGC preaches, so those in Together for the Gospel didn’t seem to care (and Al Mohler joked about the sex abuse cover up allegations from the stage). While CJ has had to withdraw this year, the other speakers have not issued statements or publicly agreed with Christianity Today’s call for an independent investigation.

10. You might be in a legalistic church if…there is a highly simplistic view of blessing and cursing

Finally, how does a legalistic church or a legalistic Christian culture keep its members? It tells them:

  • You will be happy and successful in life if you follow our rules,
  • You will be punished if you don’t, and if your life is bad it’s likely because you are being bad

Thus, it is fear that keeps people involved, rather than love, devotion, or a shared sense of purpose.

Legalism is poisonous. Yes, there is always a balance, and we are to live a holy life. But we are also to be discerning, and allowing someone else to determine what you are to think, what you are to do, and what you are to believe is antithetical to the gospel. Christianity is not a set of rules; it is a relationship with the risen Christ.

I want to leave you with Paul’s words from Romans 8:14-16:

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

When you embrace Christ, you are a child of God. If your church does not promote your spiritual growth, but instead stifles your spirit and forces mindless obedience, then, please, find a different church (or Christian community). There are so many great churches that worship the living Christ. Make every effort to find one!

Have you ever been in a legalistic church? Or do you feel as if you’re in one now? What signs do you see? Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. DragonLady

    Well, that list just described my childhood. I was so well indoctrinated, even after walking away from the church for 20 years, that when I went back I wouldn’t go to any but a Baptist church. I found myself right back in that same type of teaching in a lot of ways in a Southern Baptist church even though the Landmarkists I grew up in considered Southern Baptists too liberal.

    I was just telling a lady Sunday morning how much of a miracle it was that I was able to come to Christ in that kind of environment. I also told someone that I had to come back to Jesus “through the back door” (my sponsor’s words) of a 12 step group. In the churches I grew up in, and in my family, I was taught to follow God, but not taught how. Or at least I didn’t learn how. I knew all the rules, and broke them all.

    I could ramble on a whole ‘nother blog post (or book), but I found hope and grace once I got out of the legalism and started following Jesus instead of doctrine. Not that doctrine isn’t important, but it doesn’t save, nor does it transform a hard heart. Only Jesus through the Holy Spirit can do that. Praise be to God!

    • KellyK

      By following Jesus, do you mean following what it says in the Bible?

      • DragonLady

        Since the Bible is about Jesus, and points to Jesus, yes, of course. But only through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to the honor and glory of God. Which is not to say that I don’t still sin. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9 I have to make a conscious, daily choice to surrender to Him. Sometimes many times a day.

      • Freed by Christ

        Agree totally! They take PRIDE in doctrines and as if their way of interpretation of the bible is correct and the rest are wrong. They comment like listen to good music only by THEIR definition and that speaking in tongues has ceased and it’s stated in the bible. So all who claims to speak in tongues are not true now. (So they sounded like their interpretation is the correct one and the rest of the churches are wrong) This made our church ppl very proud and seems as if our church is the BEST.

        If u have disagreement, they said u are disobedient and stubborn that’s why your life have no fruits and joy. That totally didn’t help in my growth at all. It doesn’t resonate w me. I can’t put a finger to it. For many years I was a little Pharisee myself. I want to be obedient then I realise I cannot . I cannot do it in my own strength. They sounded easy and say U obey, u get good fruits. U are disobedient that’s why u didn’t grow etc. Everything is becos u sin and u are prideful. If I were a preacher in that church, it’s so easy. Everything is these two answers. But that’s legalism! If I can do it in my own strength, I can attain the fruits so why need God? I struggled big time and being judged in that legalistic church and small group.

        Nowadays, if ppl in church argue over doctrines and they insist they are right but others wrong when it’s grey area, I know that person is legalistic and holy spirit will prompt me and I will feel uncomfortable. I am freed I don’t wanna go back into bondage again.

      • Cheryl

        I am well acquainted with the legalism with my upbringing as a PK. Now I am in a marriage that my husband is very legalistic about submission in our intimacy. Despite unless to care for my heart and have mutual interests as respectful to both party’s. He insists submission is the bottom line. Somehow this demeans loving as Christbloves the church.

    • Sheila Gregoire

      I’m so glad that you got out and found Jesus! That’s wonderful.

      And this sums up what I was trying to say perfectly: “Not that doctrine isn’t important, but it doesn’t save, nor does it transform a hard heart. Only Jesus through the Holy Spirit can do that.” Yep. And far too many churches take pride in doctrine rather than in living out their faith and knowing Jesus.

  2. KellyK

    Hi Sheila,

    I have a question regarding your 5th point. Religious sects such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses consider themselves to be Christian. Mormons also believe that Jesus and Lucifer were brothers and we can become gods after we die if we do the right things according to the Mormon Doctrine. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus did NOT rise from the dead on the 3rd day, that was just his spirit. Then there are other Protestant religions who feel that homosexuality is ok, even though the Bible says it’s not. I was raised as a Roman Catholic. I HAD to go to confession (with a priest) every week before Mass as that was the only way I could be forgiven for all my sins. Roman Catholics believe that we can earn our salvation for good works. And the worship of The Virgin Mary? There was a huge statue of the Virgin Mary in my Roman Catholic Church. Every May, we had a May-Day celebration and one 5th grader got picked to be the May Queen, which meant the girl got to place the crown on the statue of the Virgin Mary. One year, that was ME!

    This is why I’m having such a hard time finding a good Bible-believing Church here in my town. We have a Catholic Church, an ELCA Lutheran church, two United Methodist churches, 2 Baptist churches, a Church of Christ, a United Church of Christ, a Church of God and one single non-denominational church.I think it’s perfectly ok for a pastor to point out false doctrine. Should that be the SOLE focus of the sermon every week? No. But as a Bible study? Yes! Praying for those churches is a good thing. However, I don’t find anything wrong to point out ‘wolves in sheeps clothing” when appropriate.

    Each year the churches in my town do a weekly Lenten service at 4 different churches. They also have an organization called LEAF-Loving Equally All Families, where kids and adults would come to our town for a few weeks in the summer and help the elderly shut-ins and needy families spruce up the outer portion of the home. Things such as wheelchair ramps have been constructed by this group. Some of the churches offer a free weekly meal. Others host Back-to-School giveaways…these are needed because my town is a very poor town. 70% of the students get free or reduced lunches.

    Now, I’m sure there’ll be some disagreements about my first paragraph. And that’s ok. Not trying to stir a debate, just seeking clarification.


    • Sheila Gregoire

      Hi Kelly! That’s a great question.

      I would argue that some of the sects that you mentioned wouldn’t actually believe the essentials, and so they wouldn’t be considered worshiping Jesus. There are, after all, some essentials!

      And I do agree that Bible studies where we do look at doctrine are totally okay. In fact, I think that it’s good for most of us to have opinions on the hot button topics. If we have no opinions, then we’re not wrestling through things and we’re not really growing. We should be seeking out what God is telling us on different issues. Absolutely. And it’s perfectly fine to disagree with other Christians on those issues, too!

      And many of those disagreements do result in different churches forming, and that’s where we get different denominations. I also think it’s fine for a church to be proud of its doctrine and the things it believes (otherwise why would you believe it?) I think the problem comes when we believe that we have the only access to the Holy Spirit because of those doctrines, without realizing that other people can sincerely love God but just see things differently.

      I do feel for you being in a town with no real church that ministers the way you would like. My youngest kids are in a similar situation because they live in such a small town. What they’ve decided to do is to not worry too much about the music or the sermon but just find the church with the best community, where they can rely on each other and grow together. Sometimes you just can’t find a great church. But in most towns there are great Christians!

      I’ve started having some women over just to talk and pray, sort of like my small group. I need community and I don’t have time to meet all kinds of new people at our church, so I just get together with the women I need, and in many ways that is my real Christian community. So if you can’t find it in a church, I’d just urge you to create it.

      I know it’s hard. I know it takes a lot of work. But I hope you can find a great community!

    • Just Me

      15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.

      16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

      17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

  3. J. Parker

    Thanks, Sheila!

    And just a comment in favor of great churches! My own church would be 0 for 10 on that list. For those who are reading this and seeking a new body to worship and serve with, there are truly wonderful churches out there. Seek them out and become a part of that light in the world.

    • Sheila Gregoire

      So glad you said that, J! I’m in a church that would be 0 out of 10 as well. I just want to encourage everyone who is in a 10/10 church (or even a 4/10 church) to not give up on church. I see so much of that on Twitter right now, and it’s really sad. Some church bodies aren’t healthy. But we know that Jesus is love, and we know that God sends the Holy Spirit to those who truly believe in Him. And the Holy Spirit will lead us in truth.

      So we know that there MUST be churches that are good out there. If you’re in a denomination that isn’t good or a church body that isn’t good, focus on finding one that is, rather than believing that all churches are like that.

      The problem is that if you’re in a denomination that is like this, often that’s all you’ve ever known. You’ve grown up hearing that all other churches aren’t real churches anyway, so you really don’t realize you have a choice. But you do. There is so much out there, and most of it isn’t like this at all! So please, don’t give up on Jesus and don’t give up on church altogether.

      Like Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let’s not forsake meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another, and so much the more as we see the Day approaching.”

      • J. Parker

        Love your response, Sheila! Yes, it’s so frustrating to see people walk away from the Church because they’ve been hurt by a particular group of people. And I long for them to know the genuine value of being in the body of Christ, as He intended.

        • Sheila Gregoire

          Amen! And I want to say too that I don’t think the internet is a substitute. So many people think, “well, I can watch sermons online and join forums.” Yes, you can, and that’s WONDERFUL to do. But we’re also called to live in community with others. And we need people to serve and to be served by. You can’t do that online. You can’t genuinely know someone online in the same way.

          Like you and I know each other about as well as any online friends could. And we’ve even met in real life! But I wouldn’t say that we’re really in community with each other. We do support each other, but it is different (though I love you dearly). We need real life people!

          Like, I’ve never knit you anything. Usually I knit stuff for people in my community. But I’ve never knit anything for you. If you want people to knit stuff for you, you have to get to know people in real life. 🙂

          • E

            LOL to the knitting comment!

            On a serious note, I would love to be in a ‘real life’ Christian community, but due to life circumstances, I am instead in a secular community where I am both served and serving, loved and loving, and then I get my fix of biblical teaching/community from books, podcasts and blogs. I am learning to be content with this, and not make having a ‘women’s bible study’ group of friends who I could do life with into an idol. God has me where I am for a reason, and I am going to fully accept the blessings and the hardships of this season.

        • Mark

          Sheila and J,

          Are you familiar with Reformed Calvinism? They pretty much stay within the perimeters of TULIP or 5 Points of Calvinism, more so than the Bible.

          Some “Reformed” preachers won’t fully disclose their doctrine but rather indoctrinate their an unsuspecting Congregation with the teachings of TULIP without even telling them. Any Congregation member who asks’ questions about where they are coming from or their abusive law and sin centered methodology, he will severely rebuke them in a verbally heavy handed way, rather than expose their doctrine.

  4. Tim

    Sheila, you’ve hit the nail on the head, or perhaps I should say ten nails. Each point is solid. I can’t count the number of times someone has told me I can’t criticize a person’ teaching because they occupy a teaching position and therefore must have been given it by God. It doesn’t stop them from criticizing my teaching, but who needs consistency?

  5. Doug

    Sheila, while I have great respect for The Apostles Creed, nevertheless, it is man made. Should not our source of authority be Scripture alone? Christ himself based everything on the fact of “It is written.” Legalism as we recognize it, has simply to do with adding or subtracting from Scripture. Failure to recognize this will cause us to fall into the wishy washy realm of relativism, in which nothing in Scripture is seen as definitive and absolute.

    • Sheila Gregoire

      Doug, I actually have no problem with the Apostle’s Creed. It was written by hundreds of Christian leaders who came together asking the question, “what are the essentials?”

      Everything in the Creed is in the Bible.

      But they were dealing with the same issues we are. People were splitting over things that were relatively minor. So they were trying to define–what are the minors and what are the majors?

      It’s easy to say, “we should just follow the Bible.” But what parts of the Bible are major? What about the admonitions in Timothy not to wear gold jewelry?

      God left the Holy Spirit with the church, and I believe the Holy Spirit helped them write the Apostle’s Creed, and it has stayed with us for 1700 years. Maybe there’s a reason! 🙂

      • Sheila Gregoire

        and for those wondering, here is the Apostle’s Creed. Pretty good, eh? 🙂

        I believe in God, the Father almighty,
        creator of heaven and earth.
        I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
        who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
        born of the Virgin Mary,
        suffered under Pontius Pilate,
        was crucified, died, and was buried;
        he descended to the dead.
        On the third day he rose again;
        he ascended into heaven,
        he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
        and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
        I believe in the Holy Spirit,
        the holy catholic Church,
        the communion of saints,
        the forgiveness of sins,
        the resurrection of the body,
        and the life everlasting. Amen.

        • KellyK

          I remember learning that as a Roman Catholic kid. Every Sunday before Mass was CCD, the Catholic version of Sunday School. As s young child we went to CCD on Saturday mornings & in middle school, Sunday Mornings & in high school on Sunday Evenings. I attended CCD from 1st thru 11th grade, when I was confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church. Baptism happened as an infant.

          • Chris

            Kelly, make an appointment to speak with a priest and share your concerns. There maybe things that CCD didnt teach you. At least that was my experience and i considered (past tense) myself well catechised.

        • Sarah

          Where it says “Holy catholic church” do you interpret that to mean just the body of true believers rather than the Catholic Church as it stands today?

          • Sheila Gregoire

            Yes. It’s “holy catholic” not “Roman Catholic”.

          • Sheila Gregoire

            Catholic is a word that just means universal. We’re all part of the catholic church if we follow Christ; But then there are also Roman Catholics.

          • Julie

            The Roman Catholic Church has the Four marks of the true church:
            1. One
            2. Holy
            3. Catholic
            4. Apostolic

        • Mama Bear

          Oh wow. I was taught that in church as a young adult. Apostolic Lutheran Church .

      • Doug

        Sheila, you are right that it was written to address what was considered essential in their day. We live in a different day. It could easily be argued that the 6 day creation you mentioned is just as essential in our day, maybe more, since rejecting it is to break down confidence in all of Scripture, even confidence in the articles of the Creed itself, since the actual meaning of the words used to support each article can be disputed and not taken at face value — if we follow the logic that disputes the 6 day creation. To reject an article of the Creed is to break down the Gospel. To reject the 6 day creation is to break down the Scripture on which the Gospel is founded.

        • Rebecca

          I highly agree with you, Doug. If you hadn’t said something, I would have. While there is much upon which I agree with you, Sheila, stating that it is okay for people to believe something that is directly against what the Bible clearly states that occurred is extremely dangerous. I am sure that there are many Christians who love Jesus and who believe in the Gap Theory, but it still is contrary to Scripture. Just because something is not stated in the Apostle’s Creed does NOT mean that there are no more vital concepts in the Bible. When the Apostle’s Creed was written, there were no major arguments about evolution vs. Creationism. It was written in the 300s!! Pretty much everyone believed that the universe was created by God or gods. Evolutionism didn’t even become a major theory until the 1800s. I encourage you to do more research before lightly using this as an example. Answers in Genesis is an excellent resource, as well as Creation Ministries International. These sites can explain much better than I exactly WHY the Gap Theory is false and why it is so dangerous to fall into the snare of believing that 7-day Creationism is unimportant. This is NOT legalism, this is Scripture! While I do understand your concerns about legalism better than you know, please, please, don’t encourage people to ignore Scriptural truths! Rather, encourage them to explore the Scriptures for themselves, read different viewpoints, and form their own conclusions with prayer and fasting and the help of the Holy Spirit. Also, it just isn’t a fair equation to compare Genesis with the New Testament Letters. Genesis is a history book…stating facts and details of events that occurred. The Letters are exhortations from the Apostles to the early Christians with information about how they should be living to follow Jesus. And there, the predominant theme is loving others, with additional information on how to do that. The issue with legalism is that people forget about the loving part, and just on the information that the Apostles provided…and without love, we are nothing, so there is the entire problem! However, you are trying to equate a history book, with facts that are ALL true, with a letter that is God-inspired (and is also all true!). It just isn’t the same. Just because it is in the Bible doesn’t mean that we should read every book as if they were the same! We are not expected to take every line of poetry in the Book of Psalms literally (are we really sheep? Psalm 23 Do the wicked really have graves for throats? Psalm 5), so in the same way, some Books are history documents, some are instructions, some are poetry, and some are prophesies. It’s okay to keep that in mind when reading the Bible. In fact, stating that all books in the Bible should be read as the same “genre” is definitely a type of legalism.

          Please take this with the love and concern with which it was intended. I greatly admire and appreciate your work for the Lord.

          • Sheila Gregoire

            Rebecca, you are free to believe whatever you want, but I just want you to realize that those who believe in an older earth also do so while treating the Bible with integrity.

            What I’m saying is that Christians can have different views on these issues and still be Christians. Do you believe that?

            I find it interesting that those who believe in an old earth tend to fully embrace those who believe in a new earth as full Christians, and yet those who believe in a young earth tend not to give the others the same goodwill. This does grieve me.

            I am not saying that we should not all wrestle it through, or that I do not have an opinion one way or the other (and my opinion may not even be the same as some members of my family! In fact I’m far less old earth than many of them are). But that doesn’t mean that neither of us is Christian.

            This propensity to say that if we disagree about issues one of us must be in sin, or one of us must not be a Christian, is the cause of much division and pain. Let’s instead assume that the other person has good motives, and that they have come to a conclusion that you may not agree with, but they’ve come to it while searching the Bible out for themselves.

            Wesley and Calvin did not agree with each other, and yet both were saved and both loved Jesus. Martin Luther King Jr. saw some things differently from C.S. Lewis, yet both had authentic walks with God and both have much to teach us.

            It is good to wrestle things through. It is good to have opinions. But let’s not make the mistake of thinking that these are gospel issues, when they are not. Let’s instead find brotherhood and sisterhood with one another as we serve the world and show the world Christ’s love, rather than fighting amongst ourselves as to who is “purer” in doctrine.

            Personally, I would rather be wrong on many doctrinal issues but excel in charity than have doctrinal purity but not have love. I seem to remember Paul saying something about that, too. 🙂

          • Rebecca

            Nowhere in my comment did I say that someone who does not believe in young earth creationism is not a Christian, and my sincere apologies if I inadvertently implied that. I don’t believe that it is for any of us to judge who is a Christian and who is not, besides obvious fruit…I don’t believe for a second that Adolf Hitler, for example, was a Christian. God is the One who sits on the judgement seat and He alone can determine who is a Christian. (We are told, however, to judge other Christians by their fruit and to exhort and reprove them.)

            However, that is not the question I wish to focus on. As another commenter stated, not everyone is going to be right in all areas of their belief. Does it matter to their Christian walk and does it determine whether they go to heaven or hell? Again, that is up to God, and Him alone. None of us are ever going to be “finished” in the faith, and I am sure that you agree. Therefore, it is vital for each of us to pursue the truth, constantly, by reading our Bibles and seeking the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Just because we love Jesus and a debate over the exact meaning of a particular Scripture may not be “important” to determining whether we go to heaven or hell, does not mean that we can just sit back and relax! We must constantly exercise our minds in the search of truth! However, yes, we must not allow this to become a thing of division, but rather a challenge to fellow Christians AND non-Christians to discover the truth.

            As I read through later comments, I see that you seem to agree with this…but there is one statement that you made that I consider dangerous. “If Christians have been debating things using the Bible for centuries, then I think it’s important that we don’t assume that there is only one right way to interpret.” Could you clarify this? I’m assuming that you don’t really believe that there is more than one right way to interpret Scripture? I would definitely agree that no one person is right in all areas in their belief system and in the way that they interpret Scripture, and that everyone should remember that they might not be right, but I have a huge contention with the idea that you can interpret the Scripture anyway you want (in this particular case, assume it does line up with the Apostle’s Creed) and still be correct. It’s just impossible, especially since so many interpretations of Scripture directly contradict each other…you can use your example of rapture vs. post tribulation return of Jesus here. Both just cannot be correct. And, just because a famous person who made great strides in the Kingdom said something doesn’t make it true!

        • Chris

          Sheila, dont forget the other Rites. Its not just the Latin Rite.

        • Just Me

          But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. — II Peter chapter 3 verse 8


          I believe there were six creation periods called “days” in the Bible. Mankind measures time differently than the LORD measures time. Creation periods of time could have been one thousand years or perhaps millions of years or longer. What is important, in my opinion, is to know that the heavens and the Earth were created and organized by God.


          The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handywork.
          2 Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge.
          3 There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
          Psalms chapter 19

    • Gary

      Your point brings up the debate about 7 day creation, this is where I disagree with the writer. Dwelling on it is legalism, but one needs to know the Bible’s absolutes.

  6. Petra

    10 out of 10 for the Independent Fundamental Baptist churches I grew up in and attended for part of my adulthood! Still having trouble finding a church in my small southern town that does not embody at least some of these points.

    • Sheila Gregoire

      I know it’s hard! I think the main thing is to look past what it looks like and ask, “what fruit do the people in this community actually exhibit?” I’ve been in churches where I disagreed with people on so many things, but where we all cared for each other so well and where there was so much grace. If you find those lovely people, even if those lovely people don’t believe the same way, then you can still be in community! But you can’t be in community with people who care more about doctrine than about living out Jesus’ commands.

      But I know it’s lonely. And I hope even if you can’t find a great church that you can create your own community from those you know!

  7. Mary

    Hi Sheila. I do agree with the principles you are putting forward here, but I’m a little concerned at the inference – intended or not – that basically there are “important bits” of the Bible that matter and others that really don’t.
    1 Timothy 3:15 says “ALL scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable…”
    As others have said in the comments above, I feel the two sticking points in your article are (1) The apostle’s creed, & (2) creation.
    Great as the Creed is, it’s problematic to use a man-authored, extra-biblical source to define the essentials of scripture. Let scripture do that itself! Reading it systematically & contextually, and of course with the enlightening work of the Holy Spirit, will reveal them.
    Regarding Creation, I do think it is necessary to believe that God created in the way He said He did. Otherwise you are allowing us to say that God begins His primary source if revelation to humankind with a story that is irrelevant to our understanding of Him! That doesn’t make sense.
    Of course, as you say, a true Christian can believe in the Gap theory, or even evolution! But that should never be smoothed over as immaterial. Of course it matters what we believe about God and His Word! I do agree that rather than castigating & arguing serves no purpose & does not glorify God. We’d be better served in encouraging each other to get reading and get learning so that we get to know our God better!

    • Sheila Gregoire

      Mary, I appreciate what you’re saying, but here’s where I’d push back a little bit.

      There are things that Christians have been disagreeing on for centuries–ideas that both sides have said, “I believe the Bible.” They look at the Bible and they come to honest disagreements.

      But too often one side will think that the other just “isn’t believing the Bible”, when really, it’s their belief in the Bible that is leading them to that conclusion.

      If Christians have been debating things using the Bible for centuries, then I think it’s important that we don’t assume that there is only one right way to interpret.

      Calvin and Wesley came to different conclusions, but both used the Bible.

      Complementarians and egalatarians come to different conclusions, but both use the Bible.

      Young earth and old earth see things differently, but both use the Bible (old earth was believed long before young earth was; Augustine believed that the Genesis creation story was allegory; so did C.S. Lewis). Billy Graham himself said the debate isn’t really important (this is where I fall; I actually don’t care that much whether it’s young earth or old earth). In Graham’s words:

      “I don’t think that there’s any conflict at all between science today and the Scriptures. I think that we have misinterpreted the Scriptures many times and we’ve tried to make the Scriptures say things they weren’t meant to say, I think that we have made a mistake by thinking the Bible is a scientific book. The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption, and of course I accept the Creation story. I believe that God did create the universe. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man. … whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man’s relationship to God”

      I hope people wouldn’t accuse him of not being a Christian!

      Pre-rapture and post-rapture come to very different conclusions, but both use the Bible.

      Yet so often we insult each other by saying, “they just ignore the Bible.” No, they don’t. They look at it and see things differently.

      I could make biblical arguments for all the points of view that I listed here, and I believe that real Christians can hold different views on all of these things. And that’s why I think it’s important that we don’t accuse people of just not reading the Bible. If you look at the history of Christianity, these have been BIG debates for centuries. I don’t think the answer is clearcut to any of them.

      Now, I have opinions on all of these things (and they’re likely not what people accuse me of believing or think I believe in many cases), but that doesn’t mean that I think the other side doesn’t use the Bible. We just see things differently.

      I think it’s important to wrestle through these things. I think it’s important to pray about them and think about them. But I also think it’s more important to concentrate on what we hold in common, and to live out Jesus’ teachings and serve others. And the danger is that we’ll think we have the inside track with God because “we believe the Bible” while others don’t. And that’s what often scares me.

      I hope that makes sense!

      • Mary

        Yes, absolutely!
        However, Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth & the Life”. There are not many ways, and only one Truth! Just because good men have differed on these issues over the years does not make them ALL right, nor does it make these issues irrelevant. Of course they are all to be respected for their contributions to the kingdom of God. I absolutely believe that.
        You have said before that God is big enough for our questions. He sure is! He wants us to seek after Him & pursue Him. The Bible is the most direct way to do this. Without it, we have only second hand answers to our “whys”. With it, we have the opportunity for God to teach us first hand!

        So… we agree on the principles of legalism! I guess I’m just trying to find that fine line in between legalism & liberalism… honouring God as the source of absolute Truth, and seeking to know Him better… while always remembering that love, joy & peace are the qualities that mark us as God’s children.

      • Chris

        Sheila!! You are so close!! You are almost there!! Seriously. You need to make an appointment to talk with a Catholic priest. Take Keith and go talk to a priest. Ask questions. Lay it all out. Tell him that you run a Christian sex blog for married women and that one of your commenters says you are Catholic and dont know it and you want to find out why someone would say that.

        It is important to question………as an academic exercise. It is equally important that you arrive at the right answer. And the right answers have been known for a long time. There is no question about the faith that has not been asked before. None.

  8. Mike

    Hi Sheila;You mentioned SGC and CJ Mahaney.Would you say SGC are in the category of ‘legalistic church’?.People I know are involved with SGM and I would like to inform them.

    • Sheila Gregoire

      I honestly don’t know enough of the internal workings of SGM to comment on that. I have heard some pretty alarming things, and there is a blog written by people who used to be in SGM but aren’t anymore–SGM Survivors. But I personally do not know anyone who went there, so I can’t personally attest to it. I’d check out the blog and do some digging!

  9. Nelly

    Sheila, this may not be where you want to take this discussion, and I certainly respect that, but I am curious your thoughts on complementarianism vs. egalitarianism. I am wrestling with this myself, and am currently looking for a new church in a new town and am wondering what I want in a church when it comes to these issues. I would love a new perspective of the matter, as I am continually going around in my own head about it but not discussing it with others whose theology I tend to fall in line with.

    • Sheila Gregoire

      I once heard someone say that complementarians with good marriages are actually functionally egalitarians, because you can’t have a good marriage and be functionally complementarian. 🙂 That’s really what my post is about today.

      Personally, I don’t like the debate. I think it’s far less important to talk about what label you are and far more important to talk about what it is that we’re aiming for–to look like Jesus and to feel like we’re one. If that is your aim, and if everybody agrees that that is the aim, then you can get there and the labels don’t matter. But when the aim becomes something else, then you run into trouble. But I’m talking about that today on the blog!

  10. Nelly

    I wasn’t sure whether to comment here or on today’s post, but I’ll go ahead and reply here to keep it easy! Can you explain what you mean by “if you have a good marriage as a complimentarian then you are actually a functioning egalitarian, and you can’t have a good marriage and be functionally complementation?” Maybe I don’t have the same definition as you or some other people. I always thought egalitarian means men and women are the same and interchangeable and complimentarian means they were made different with different needs, strengths, weaknesses and even roles, but the way those things play out are highly individual and can look different for each marriage based on strengths, personalities and preferences. Like right now, my husband and I are both in school full time. Therefore, we both do everything around the house. He does fix cars and do house repairs because I usually wouldn’t know how and I do tend to do most of the cooking, but I am a nutrition major so I actually like that. But I do our money because I am better with math and he probably cleans more than me because he is a much neater person than I am. But we still believe we are made to compliment each other and he still tries to take initiative and lead, but to us this means that when we fight, he comes and initiates reconciliation, or he typically takes the lead initiating conversation about big decisions, but we always make them completely together, and he is more likely to submit to my preferences. And I can always initiate things as well, its just he tries to be the one to do it so I don not have to. So I guess I thought we were complementarians, just not strict at all, but does that make us functionally egalitarian? I do not believe I am the same to my husband, or even have the same role or responsibility in marriage, but I believe that is way more about mindset then what I actually end up doing, because we can do most of the same things (like initiate, correct in love, make decisions, housework, jobs) and still be operating within our role. What do you think?

    • Sheila Gregoire

      Hi Nelly!

      Egalatarians believe that God made men and women differently, and that we need each other, and that together, we display the image of God. Both sexes are necessary for this. And thus, one sex is not more important than the other. They also believe that couples are to serve God together and work towards living out God’s will. One person does not have leadership over another.

      Complementarians believe that men and women are in a hierarchical relationship, where men lead and make decisions and women follow. The way that you glorify God together is by allowing the man to lead.

      Or, to put it another way, egalatarians believe you should try to seek God’s will together. Complementarians believe that the way to find God’s will is through the husband’s will, because that is his special purpose and place in the family.

      Most people who seriously seek after Christ, though, no matter what camp they fall in, honestly want to love each other and serve each other, and that’s what I mean by “functionally egalatarian.” A functionally egalatarian marriage means that you are both concerned with loving and serving each other. It doesn’t mean that you each do the same household chores or that you’re exactly the same; simply that no one is functionally in charge.

      It’s difficult to have a healthy marriage if you truly believe that only a husband’s opinion matters. The vast majority of complementarians would not believe that and would not live that out, but if you follow the belief to its logical extreme, that is what you get. (In a conflict, he makes the decision.)

      If your husband tends to initiate reconciliation, that’s fine! If you’re both aiming for oneness, and that’s what you achieve, then that’s great. And if you make decisions together, and your needs are taken into consideration just as his are, then you’re very likely to come to a healthy marriage.

      I think a healthier model than assigning labels is simply asking, “What does Jesus want from this situation? How can we glorify Jesus together and discern His will together?” And then wrestle through that. When your eyes are on Jesus, it’s pretty hard to go wrong!

      (And by the way, I do think that everybody’s marriage will look slightly different because we all have different personalities, giftings, skills, work lives, etc. It’s not important WHAT your marriage looks like; it’s important WHO your marriage is following. Make sure it’s following Jesus, and not just your husband, which is the mistake I see many Christian marriages make. If you’re doing that, then you’ll be good.)

      • Nelly

        Can I ask you then how you follow God’s word when it says that the husband is the head of the wife and women are supposed to submit to their husbands but also pursue the oneness, equality as far as value, and everything else you mentioned? This is not supposed to be snarky, I am actually asking because I agree with what you said above (my definitions of the 2 sides were I guess just different), but sometimes I struggle with how to truly live out those verses while also living “functionally egalitarian” or what I would call for us loose complementarianism. Because I guess in my opinion, leadership of husbands is real and good, but when leadership becomes a hierarchy instead of just another way to serve someone and take responsibility, then it is not of the Lord but rather what the world says leadership is. I believe my husband is to be the leader of our family, but I also believe that it does not mean my opinions are any less important or he is to support me any less. So then what does it mean? Just struggling to figure all of this out. And would I be wrong if we disagree and I decide to submit to him because I think it is right because he is the leader but its not like he forced me or that is just what we do every time?

        • Sheila Gregoire

          Hi Nelly! I think you’re asking great questions, and I’d encourage you to Google “head” and “kephale” and see what it actually means. You may be surprised! In English head has a real connotation of boss (head of an army, head of a corporation), but the Greek word that is used there doesn’t have that connotation. It may be interesting for you to look some of that up, and I think the wrestling through and praying through a lot of that is worth it!

          As to your question about whether it’s okay to submit if you disagree because you do think he’s the leader, I guess I’d ask this: What is the best in this situation? If it’s something small, like where you go for dinner or how much you decide to budget for groceries this month, then I think some give and take is a very good thing. But if it’s something big (like do we move? Do we homeschool? What church should we go to? Should my husband go back to school?), then it’s very problematic. What if you’re the one hearing from God and your husband isn’t? I think when it’s big things, unity needs to be the goal. It’s better to wrestle in prayer, and then if you can’t agree, go to a mentor couple and a wise couple and keep talking it through. If you both are seeking the Holy Spirit, I believe that He will tell you.

          I’ve gone along with what Keith wanted lots of times simply because it mattered more to him than me, and it wasn’t a big deal. But the very big things that we’ve disagreed on (buying a certain house; switching churches) we’ve had to wrestle through together, to make sure that we were hearing from God!

          • whoami

            Sheila, I am a little concerned that the way you worded the following statement- makes it sound like the definition of kephale as source is a very settled and accepted definition. Just by the link I posted and you posted- it is pretty clear that there is still a lot of debate just on this one word, much less many other words in this debate.

            [Editor’s Note: I really don’t want this comments section to become a big academic debate on the Greek. If people are interested, they can follow the links or do their own research, but it really isn’t the point of the post, and I’d rather not go deeply into side issues. People are free to research if they like!]

  11. Nelly

    Ok last question I promise. How do I go about discussing this with my husband? How do we change the idea that men are “leaders” in the sense that they are in charge? I mean, even in our wedding vows he promised to be a Godly leader and I promised to “follow his lead as we walk as partners in life.” And the way it works for us, I do not think any of those things mean leader by most people think it, and the way we always think of it is more of a sacrificial love and “going first” like some of the source/origin examples say, but how do I talk to him about this without sounding like “hey so you’re not the leader anymore” because it is so engraved in literally every aspect of Christian culture. I am literally rethinking my wedding vows at this point. What do I do with this new information and how to I make sure my husband and I are on the same page and understand each other. This wrestling is bringing joy and freedom from how I thought things had to be, but also making me worry about how to live in Christian circles believing something new, and also how my husband will react/what he will think about it. And I am not trying to say my husband is controlling or anything. He literally takes leadership to mean just doing the hard things, taking responsibility, and doing the dirty work instead of me. But I still worry about how he will react if I try to talk to him about this. What should I do?

    • Sheila Gregoire

      Hi Nelly,

      It sounds like God is taking you on quite the journey! So I would trust that God will take your husband on a journey, too. And I would honestly just pray for a while. Give God some time to work! And listen to what God is telling you to do. It sounds like you guys have a great relationship–he defers to you, you discuss things together. It sounds like you’re really loving each other. And that’s what really matters. I can’t tell you what to do beyond that; I don’t know God’s timing, or your husband, or what God is doing in your life. Only you know that. So this is when you just have to pray and learn to discern his voice. I know that’s hard–but really, that’s what living the Christian life is all about!

      • Lydia purple

        Nelly, 3 notes:

        1. biblical leadership is defined as sacrificial serving those you lead. That is what Jesus taught and lived. Jesus did not boss anybody around to fulfill his personal whims.

        2. the hierarchical structures we know today had been introduced from the Roman Empire‘s hierarchical political system into the church. In the Bible we do not find this hierarchy. Authority has to do with power to influence which related to integrity. A father and husband does have power to influence his wife and children, simply because they are his family. Even if he rejects them or his role it has a profound negative impact on them, but if he looks out for them and loves them it has a deep positive impact. The leadership in this light means that he should take his walk with God very seriously because if he lives in the flesh and not by the spirit his family will suffer from it. (The same is true for wives/mothers and pastors and their churches). Being the leader does not mean you stand between Those you lead and God, but it means you stand before God on behalf of those entrusted to you. It requires you to lead your own life well, so that your influence on others is a blessing pulling them closer to God and not away.

        3. the head passage In Ephesians 5, actually talks about the head in terms of anatomy. It describes how the head and body are one. If you think a little deeper about this we find that the head houses the brain and some of the senses, yet nerves run throughout the body and are in constant communication with the brain which processes the input and sends back impulses to lead the body. The brain never just shouts out commands and the body has to follow, it is always in communication even as the body executes what the brain decided. It is a neverending flow of communication, and the head without a body is useless and the body without the head is useless, but together they can accomplish anything. In medicine if there is a malfunction of the nerves it creates real problems. (Like fake pains, jerking, loss of basic skills, paralysis). The Ephesians clearly states that head looks out for the body, because they are one. In a way one could say well, the brain makes all the decisions then, but that is not true, because it is always making decisions based on the imput from the body and even emotional input from the heart so to say. You can‘t separate that. Also if the brain decides to harm it‘s own body or mistreat it, we have mental illness (selfharm, suicide, eating disorders etc) so if we apply this to the headship of husbands, it puts it in a different light.

  12. Caroline

    I enjoy reading articles and blogs about what others believe. I grew up in a luke-warm Catholic home with its share of dysfunction. We followed the ‘rules’ of our faith, but I was the one who always asked why and couldn’t really accept any of it as feasible even as a young child. Throughout my life I’ve met people of many faiths and have had very religious friends who call themselves Christians. They are kind, well-meaning people who totally seem to ‘feel’ their faith. I envy them, but do not believe I have a personality for their kind of belief in God. I admire them for what they do for others (since I personally believe that that is what we should do) and for the sense of community they feel within the churches they attend. I’ve tried to reconnect with organized religion as an adult, but no longer feel a need for it in my life. I still enjoy the pomp and beauty of a Catholic mass, but I fear I am an all or nothing kind of person. There is too much I disagree with socially across all Christian faiths, so don’t feel I would be living authentically if I ignored the ‘rules’ that make no sense to me and can often lead to excluding others in society – people like my Gay sister and other friends who are Gay, women who want autonomy over their own bodies, etc. I appreciate your thoughtful posts and know I can always learn more. We live in a divided country right now, and I’m doing whatever I can to understand the ways others see the world.

  13. Brievel

    My sister’s church is a little too legalistic for my tastes… they don’t *preach* on it often, but the expectations and ostracization if you don’t live up to those expectations are there… they’ve turned her into a pale shadow of herself and her husband (my husband’s former best friend) has also become so… probably best exemplified in their music: she used to listen to lots of different kinds of music, instrumentals, Enya, dancing music, jigs and reels, he used to listen to rock – now all they listen to is very tame “church” music. She didn’t used to have a problem wearing short-sleeved or sleeveless shirts, or pants, or skirts above the ankle – now she avoids all those.

    She keeps pressuring me to return to that church and saying I “need Jesus” when I refuse. I’m quite frankly afraid to go back there, I have not forgotten the snubbing we got as children when our mother took us there.


    Our “pastor” preaches “Husbands, are you discipling your wives to become a Proverbs 31 woman?”
    He requires signed “covenant” for membership:
    “I enter into a covenantal relationship with the members of this church. In humble reliance upon the Holy Spirit, I endeavor to pursue the following:”
    (1) To meet together for any and ALL services on each Lord’s Day, as the Lord shall give me opportunity, to serve and glorify Him in His worship, to edify one another, and to work together for the good of His church
    (2) To diligently guard the truth, upholding the standard of sound words recorded in Scripture and reflected in our Confession of Faith
    (3) To earnestly seek God’s face in prayer both private and corporate for the pleasure of His presence, the needs of the saints, for personal and corporate cleansing from sin and holiness in our journey of sanctification, and for personal and corporate revival as He pleases to give it.
    (4) To avoid participation in any secret society which violates the Scriptures or our Confession of Faith
    (5) To wholeheartedly support, love, and care for the church’s ministries and members, offering: my prayers, my financial gifts of tithes and offerings, my service
    (6) To boldly witness for the Lord Jesus Christ, living a transformed life and proclaiming the gospel as the Lord guides my steps
    (7) To actively pursue personal holiness before God in fulfillment of the great commandment – to love God supremely and my neighbor as Christ has loved us
    (8) To promote the UNITY of the church, being a peacemaker with all in the body of Christ
    (9) To respectfully follow the elders and other leaders of this church, TRUSTING and supporting their leadership as they follow Christ
    (10) To humbly submit to the church’s discipline, graciously repenting when approached about personal sin, and lovingly restoring others who become entangled in sin if they should come to repentance
    (11) To be active in the work of the ministries of the local church, unless providentially hindered
    (12) I also purpose to maintain family and private worship; if God has given me children, to train my children according to the Bible, to walk carefully in the world, to be just in my dealings, faithful in my engagements, and appropriate in my conduct, to avoid gossip, not speaking that which is evil, and to avoid unrighteous anger, to abstain from all forms of activity which dishonor my Lord Jesus Christ, cause stumbling to a fellow believer or hinder bringing a soul to Christ, to be zealous in my efforts to advance the cause of Christ our Savior, and to give Him preeminence in all things.
    (13) I also purpose to guard the biblical structure of the family and the sanctity of life, affirming marriage as that being between a man and a woman joined together by God, which man should not put asunder.
    (14) I further purpose to encourage my fellow brethren in the blessed hope of our Lord’s return, to watch over one another in brotherly love, to remember each other in prayer, to aid each other in sickness and distress, to cultivate Christian sympathy in feelings and courtesy in speech, to be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation.
    (15) I moreover purpose that if I remove from this place, I will seek as soon as possible to unite with some other church of like faith and practice where I can carry out the spirit of this covenant and other principles of God’s Word.

    This covenant I make in the presence of Almighty God, the Searcher of all hearts, with a true intention to fulfill my obligations, as I shall answer at the Last Day, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed. I most humbly beseech the Lord to strengthen me by His Holy Spirit for this end, and for His glory and honor.


    My church recommends this after an affair.
    Do homework!!!
    Unfaithfulness Assignment
    Listen to the 2 Wayne Mack tapes
    (Rebuilding a Marriage After an Affair) together.
    Take notes.
    Discuss together.
    Offending Party: Read: Repentance and the 20th Century Man. Psalm 51 32
    1. How have you sinned against God?
    2. How have you sinned against your wife?
    3. How have you sinned against others?
    4. What are the consequences of your sin?
    5. What are you going to do to completely break off this relationship?
    6. What are you willing to do to avoid temptation?
    7. What level of accountability do you think you need?
    8. Make a list of things you appreciate about your wife.
    9. Make a list of the blessings God has given you through your family.
    You will “feel” like going back. You need to decide what you will do when that feeling comes.
    Going back to the other woman in any sense will have significant consequences
    This is not merely a matter of restoring your marriage to its previous condition.
    You need to make it better than it has ever been.
    Future Assignment: The Complete Husband.
    Offended Party: Read: From Forgiven to Forgiving, by Jay Adams
    1. How have you sinned against your husband?
    2. How can you know someone is repentant?
    3. What does it mean when you say you forgive someone?
    4. What struggles do you anticipate having as you seek to forgive?
    5. How do you plan to deal with these struggles?


    Our pastor on DIVORCE:
    A married person may wonder whether Matthew 5 permits them to divorce their unfaithful spouse. While
    divorce would indeed not “cause” the unfaithful spouse to commit adultery, this fact doesn’t nullify God’s
    commands against divorce nor the FAITHFUL spouse’s unconditional commitment.
    God’s Command. Scripture directly prohibits divorce (Matthew 19:6, Mark 10:9, 1st Corinthians 7:10-13, 27).
    All of God’s commands against divorce lack an exception clause for adultery.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Get out of that church! That’s awful. And do not sign such a covenant!

      • BARBARA

        My husband and I have been visiting there.
        At first, it APPEARED to be ok.
        I can’t keep listening to the pastor yelling every week at this small congregation!
        He keeps saying how he has to repent to his family….
        How he keeps seeing his own pride….
        How we should join a small groups….
        stomach aches

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Not of God, Barbara. Back away, and don’t go back! There are good churches out there. There really are.

          • BARBARA

            You are a blessing!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    How our pastor handles ADULTERYYYYYYYYYYYYY
    Questions for the Initial Session after Adultery is Confessed

    Instructions: One of the strategies we like to employ is asking COUPLES to answer a series of questions before the initial session. That allows the counselor to do some DATA COLLECTION before the COUPLE comes for the first meeting, and helps to prepare the counselor for what they might be facing. We ask the couple to email their answers a day or two before the first session.
    Questions for Husband
    1. Tell me what happened with adultery. Details please.
    2. What factors led to the adultery? Obviously some things went wrong in your heart, marriage, etc. to lead you to go astray.
    3. Aside from the adultery, what other problems do you see in the marriage right now? Give me a problem list. Don’t just blame your wife; take ownership of your own sins first. 4. What does it look like to rebuild trust in the marriage?
    5. Is there any hope for the marriage? If so, describe it.
    Please note: I will NOT be giving this or showing this to your spouse, though at some point we might choose to discuss some of these things. So please be brutally honest.
    Questions for the Wife
    1. Tell me what happened with adultery.
    2. What factors led to the adultery? Obviously some things went wrong in your husband’s heart, in the marriage, etc. to lead him to go astray.
    3. Aside from the adultery, what other problems do you see in the marriage right now? Give me a problem list. Don’t just blame your husband; take ownership of your own sins first. 4. What does it look like to rebuild trust in the marriage?
    5. Is there any hope for the marriage? If so, describe it.
    Please note: I will NOT be giving this or showing this to your spouse, though at some point we might choose to discuss some of these things. So please be brutally honest.


    “Reasons for Church Membership”
    It is commanded to the believers of the church to join in a COVENANT community
    in the local assembly of believers.
    You stop being an independent Christian.
    Elders are commanded to bind and lose and
    therefore believers are implicitly commanded
    to be bound to a local assembly.
    You are no longer on your own, but willfully submitted to the accountability of the elders and the
    entire church – Matthew 18:15-18.
    You are either bound or loosed from the local church.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very, very dangerous. Just Google Matt Chandler, The Village Church, and Karen Hinckley. Not a safe situation. Church covenants should not be signed, because they bind the members, but there is no accountability for the elders.

  19. Liz Parsons

    What I need to know is if Homosexuality, Transgenderism, and Abortion are essentials because I left the LGBT Community and I’m very set on never being a part of a church that applauds, and has zero stance, on these things… Especially the preserving of life for preborn/postbirth babies. Are these essentials? I’m not saying there is no place for folks who have sinned (such as I) in church, but to condone, encourage, and placate would be too much for me. Please advise.

  20. Neil D

    This is a good list, but I would caution about #2. I would agree that doctrines vary in weight, but only requiring the Apostle’s Creed is defining orthodoxy too widely. What about the Nicene Creed, where we have the doctrine of the Trinity? And the fact that there are so many denominations and nondenominational churches is quite alarming, and many of the issues that different types of Christians disagree on are more serious than mere opinions. While there is some room for differences, we really do need more in common than we do now so we can be more unified as the Church.

  21. Kate

    I have read and LOVED so many posts on here. And listened to all your podcasts! I came across this one after you referenced it in a podcast… While I would agree with most of what you said, I am trying to understand your take on the Apostles Creed. I certainly agree with everything in the creed but just want to know if I’m understanding your take on the authority of scriptures in our lives. I feel your blog posts and podcasts are consistently backed up by scripture, using other scripture to explain scripture, etc., but then you say only the apostle’s creed is essential? and there should be freedom to believe other things when it comes to anything else? This surprised me based on everything I’ve heard from you so far… I agree that there are many other non-essentials in the Bible, but also many other things that scripture is clear on. It seems saying there is freedom in all other areas is saying we can pick and choose what parts of scripture we want to follow and which we can ignore? I have friends who grew up in a legalistic church, and as is often seen, sadly walked away, now claiming the Bible is a man written book with some wisdom but also falsehoods and nothing they need for their lives. I think it has made me sensitive towards these kinds of discussions. I get that there are certain parts of scripture can be interpreted different ways as you’ve given in some of your examples, and I know there is SO much to take into account when interpreting Scripture as you have discussed in many posts, as far as context, culture, using other scripture, going back to the original language… but I still feel our goal should be to study the Scriptures, pray for wisdom, seek out research, etc. as opposed to having freedom to believe whatever we want in all areas except the creed? This just seems it can lead down a dangerous road. Or that we shouldn’t challenge other people’s thoughts on non-essentials? I am certainly for unity but some things I feel are worth defending or engaging in discussion on. Thanks for your insight!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Great question, Kate! What I meant was that Christians debate so many things–baptism; evolution; the charismatic gifts; once saved always saved; etc. etc. etc. When it comes to doctrine, if it’s not in the apostle’s creed, it’s not an essential. I think the apostle’s creed really encapsulated what the essentials are, and the others are worth debating, but you can argue both sides using Scripture. When people say, “if you don’t believe in 6-day creation, 7000 year old earth, you’re not a Christian”, we push people away from the faith. So I think it’s important to specify what is essential for being a Christian, and what are secondary issues. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have opinions; only that we shouldn’t say those things dictate whether or not you’re a Christian. Does that make sense?

  22. Matt

    Wow, this is a really good list! I never thought about about it until now, but I am so blessed that the congregation I attend is the opposite of these in all respects. The Spirit of God is active there and you can just feel it when you walk in.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Amen! That’s awesome. And there are a LOT of good churches out there, that really do reflect Christ–which is all the more reason to leave if you’re in a legalistic one!

  23. Elijah Cacayan

    Is anti-profanity legalistic? My brother said let ’em do what they want but I did rejected it and stick to anger towards anti-profanity. Swearing is normal but it leads to sin. I view profanity as sin because my grade school mentor said “cursing is murder too.”

  24. Just Me

    Wasn’t Jesus constantly saying things ” hateful towards people’s faith”? Well, no, He wasn’t; but those who heard Him certainly felt that way. Therefore, because HE would warn you, I wanted to just remind everyone that if God said it, it is essential. When Jesus says (for example) things like: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery”; He means it; and it is essential. You can know He means it because the theme carries through “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who submit to or perform homosexual acts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor verbal abusers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.…” And again with sexual corruption in Revelation 21:8 22:15 we are warned that we are not safe to live this way and yet most “Christians” ignore it. If we give ourselves an exception (like Eve), that is dangerous and prideful. Like Eve, we don’t get to decide ‘if God really meant’ something scripture says, at least not without facing repercussions. The majority of professing Christians seem to forget two things, #1 GOD gets to decide how we are to live and how He is worshiped, not our feelings; God specifically said not to worship in pagan ways/corrupt His worship by blending (what is with so many holding tightly to man made traditions of Christmas and Easter? Scripture says”They worship Me in vain; they teach as doctrine the precepts of men.’ You have disregarded the commandment of God to keep the tradition of men.” He went on to say, “You neatly set aside the command of God to maintain your own tradition.…”). #2 in Luke 13 you find this: “Lord,” someone asked Him, “will only a few people be saved?” Jesus answered, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. After the master of the house gets up and shuts the door, you will stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ But he will reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ And he will answer, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers.’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves are thrown out.” and further “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness!’” We are warned repeatedly not to be deceived. Pray daily to be freed from believing lies.

  25. Christy

    Thank you for all the points mentioned…Specially legalistic leaders of the church make us slaves to their authority and rules. I agree with Romans 8:14-16

  26. Matthew

    Wow, This pretty much describes the Baptist church I went to for 21 years.
    The take pride in thinking they are the only ones using the correct version of the Bible (KJV) They are controlling in every way. The main theme of the church is service (you will never be able to do enough ministries) There is almost no love in this type of church unless you do everything to the t.

  27. Julie P

    #3 really describes the environment I grew up in. It left me with a belief that there was a “right way” to do everything. And so I feel wrong when I differ from anyone else, even after I study the Bible and know that I’m not wrong. It’s hard to grow out of that.


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