Their battle in the churches where they ministered was with legalism. People in the SBC church had an image, or a standard, of what this couple should be as a family, minister, and friends. This standard was not the character qualities of Scripture, but one of their own creation. This Southern Baptist couple did not meet that standard, and the hurt, pain and rejection was more than they could bear, and so they have temporarily left the ministry. Then, in recounting to me the story, the husband made an interesting statement to me:
"I was saved from my sin and discipled to be a legalist myself. When I began to discover what it means to know Christ and the freedom of loving others where they are in their walk with Christ, I began to throw off the bondage of legalism. What that means is I started accepting people where they were in their journey. My confidence in the work of Christ in my heart, and in their hearts, increased. I realized that God was a far more abler Shepherd of His people than I. Yet, an interesting thing began to happen. The more I began to reject my former legalism, the more descipable I became to the legalists."
When I asked him about attending a Southern Baptist Church in the Norman area, he mentioned several churches they had visited across the theological spectrum in the area and then made an observation that caused me later to reflect on its profundity. He said,
"Legalism is not a problem of just the far right. It is as much a problem in those who pride themselves in theological liberalism. The spirit of legalism in its purest form is your rejection of people who do not meet your standard."
I do believe the cancer that eats away at cooperative ministry among Christians, whether it be at the local church level or the national denominational level, is the spirit of legalism. Would that God give us the grace to accept one another in the various ways He has created and gifted us to be a part of His body, and refrain from demanding everyone be like us.
In His Grace,