Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Accountability vs. legalism

Awhile ago I was having a conversation with some friends. We were all participants in the Missional Leadership Initiative. When we 'signed up' for the MLI there was actually a paper we signed that said we were going to do certain things as a part of the group. Things like: attend the retreats, be a part of a cohort group, and do the assigned readings and homework. I'm sure the signature was a way of holding us accountable. Much like church membership... it's a form of submission to the group to be held accountable. Submission is (or should be) a big part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus (imho).

So, during this conversation I was chiding a couple of the guys because they hadn't yet read the assigned reading for this period. One of them was trying to give excuses for why he hadn't, and I mentioned signing a paper stating that we would. Someone else then said half-jokingly that I was a legalist.

Well, you know me... that has kind of stuck with me. And I don't hold anything against the person who said it, because I don't really think they were accusing me of being a legalist - we were just joking around. However, I think there are a lot of people who confuse legalism with accountability. They are not at all the same thing. While legalism is detrimental to our faith, I believe accountability is necessary for followers of Jesus.

Legalism can be defined more as any attempt to rely on self-effort to either attain or maintain our justification before God. Or, perhaps, the notion that we humans can achieve salvation through our own efforts.

Accountability, on the other hand, is more of an obligation or willingness to account for one's actions. It has more to do with taking responsibility for ourselves. It has nothing to do with trying to 'earn' anything, but merely saying we will do what we say.

I think there are a lot of people who have accused the "church" of being legalistic, when what they were really doing was trying to shirk their responsibility when someone held them accountable. For instance, when I signed up for the MLI I took seriously my commitment to the group. I was therefore saying that the other members of the group (or the leadership) could hold me accountable for the things I said I was going to do. If they did that, they were not being legalists, they were being my brothers and sisters in Christ (or family members, so to speak). Now, if they tried to tell me that I had to do those things in order to be a Christian, then that would be considered legalism. But there is a big difference. At least to me.

So... that's just what I was thinking about today. Accountability is not the same as legalism. The church needs more accountability; but not legalism.

Peace out; and in.