How Being In a Legalistic Church Is Like Being In an Abusive Relationship

Updated: Sep 24, 2019

The Relationship

As Christians, a lot of us like to say, "It's not a religion. It's a relationship," referring to Jesus. To those of us that understand this statement, it's a truly beautiful thing. And it's true. Not only because of the differences between a cold, legalistic religion and an actual loving relationship with someone, but also because of who the relationship is with.

Jesus Christ was and is the most loving man to have ever walked the face of the Earth. He is the most honest, the most forgiving, the most kind, and the most holy in every way. Many of us, when thinking of what it will be like to actually meet the Lord Jesus, are filled with joy.

Because He is our Savior, God in the flesh. Because of His love for us, His understanding, His grace, and His mercy. Because of what He did for us, and because of who He is. And when thinking about relationships, not religion, we could say that He is the only person to have ever lived that was not abusive at all.

The relationship we have with Christ is the perfect model for what all healthy relationships should look like. All people make mistakes. We're all sinful because of our human nature, and all of us at some point or another has done, said, or thought something abusive toward someone else. We're not perfect, and everyone is guilty of it, at least a little bit.

But Christ is the antithesis of abuse. And if Christianity isn't a religion, but a relationship with Him, then that relationship is the least abusive relationship that anyone could ever be in.

He pointed out when people were being abusive without being abusive Himself, and He loved and forgave those who abused Him, while providing safety, healing, and encouragement for those who have been abused.

The Religion

On the other hand, we have religion. In a religion that is really a relationship (Christianity), religion comes in the form of the Legalistic Church.

The Legalistic Church is not loving, forgiving, kind, or gracious, as Christ is. In fact, when we really look at it, the Legalistic Church is in complete opposition to the healthy, loving relationship that we have with Jesus.

It places you in chains, it puts rules and requirements and obstacles between you and Him. It turns the unconditional love of God into an abusive relationship with a controlling, manipulative tyrant, called the church, and its authority figures. It makes your salvation conditional, rather than the gracious and merciful gift of God that we have in Christ.

Look at this list. It's a list of warning signs that you can find yourself with a few minutes of Google research. Warning signs that you're in an emotionally abusive relationship. Think about how the Legalistic Church exhibits these signs in their own behavior with Christians, maybe you personally, and listen to the sound of your chin hitting the floor.

  1. They humiliate or embarrass you - Ex: You've committed a "sin," so they confront you in front of a group of people to "rebuke" you and make you repent to them/the church/to God in front of everyone.

  2. Constant put-downs & Hyper-criticism - "How can you watch R-rated movies as a Christian?" "I can't believe you listen to that devil's music," etc...

  3. Ignoring or excluding you - "We can't be seen with someone who associates with non-believers," "You've broken your church membership agreement, so you're not longer welcome here," "We don't allow ________ in our group."