No Jesus For YOU!
Yes, the title comes from an old Seinfeld episode. I only saw about six or so during their run and one of those was about the soup Nazi. He was a difficult man who made the world's best soup. When someone annoyed him or stepped out of his rigidly drawn lines of correct behavior he would shout "No soup for you!" And THAT, my friends, is my argument against legalism.
Legalism is not a love of the law. It is not wanting to do the right thing to please Jesus. Legalism is saying that you must have Jesus AND.... or that you can't have Jesus UNTIL... and then placing barriers around the would-be disciple. Jesus talked about the devout Pharisees who would search the world for another follower and then turn them into twice the child of hell they were! Strong stuff from the Prince of Peace. (but where we ever got the idea that peace was achieved by being nice all the time is beyond me...)
My Catholic friends tell me I need Jesus AND the Pope and their structure. My Mormon friends tell me I need Jesus AND their extra Bible (Jesus: The Sequel). My charismatic friends tell me I need Jesus AND a second outpouring of the Spirit. My friends in the church tell me I need Jesus AND the right doctrines on a hundred different crucial matters. And if I don't have Jesus AND whatever they add? Then -- no Jesus for me! I am denied equal status with them, turned away from their fellowship, because I only brought Jesus and that -- to them -- was just not enough. Or, alternatively, what I brought wasn't the real Jesus because the real Jesus only comes in a package with whatever else they declare as essential.
We sometimes do this unintentionally. While one of our three Sunday AM crowds is about 30% minority our staff is unrelievedly white. I wonder what message that sends. The majority of us are shiny happy people and I wonder if that makes some people -- who will never be shiny happy people -- think "no Jesus for me!" While this church makes a sincere and effective effort to reach the downtrodden, thrown away, and broken I wonder how many people are still turned away from Jesus because we act as if they have to have Jesus AND our traditions, way of speaking, and code of conduct.
This doesn't have to be the way things are. I remember a trip to the American West when I was twelve years old. It was 1969 or 1970 and a small church in Wyoming asked my father to come help them launch their new congregation with a week long meeting. They were a very small group of highly conservative people who were renting a VFW hall. Every night they arrived early enough to clean out the beer cans and get things looking 'churchy.' Every man sported a buzz cut or flattop and every woman used about a can and a half of Aquanet on their 'do' before arriving (which is why, I maintain, the churches of Christ don't use candles in worship. Open flame around that much hairspray might replay the Hindenburg disaster). We spent the day passing out leaflets saying "whosoever will may come." And then they did...
A proto-typical VW van pulled up, painted with daisies and peace symbols (remember the year?). Out of it poured a gaggle of hippies: long hair, dirty, handmade sandals, John Lennon style wire rimmed glasses, tie dyed shirts. They walked in and I braced myself. What would happen in this clash of cultures; similar to that between the Jerusalem Jews and the new believers in Galatia? What I saw, I will never forget. Those old, rigid, sticks-in-the-mud Christians turned out to be anything but. They got up and offered seats to the smelly newcomers. They opened the Bible and showed them where we were reading and how to use the songbooks. They asked them out to eat afterwards. I remember even going to the trailer one hippy 'family' used and seeing the old folk talking to them -- kindly and with great dignity -- about Jesus.
Instead of a "No Jesus for you!" attitude, they showed a "Jesus and nothing else" attitude. When I read Galatians to this day I think of that VW van, that clash of cultures, and the war that was avoided because nobody insisted on anything but Jesus and nobody brought anything but Jesus. Dear Father, let me be more like those old folk and less like me.