A dear friend from a nearby town visited and shared a story all too common among evangelicals. Less than three years into his tenure and without warning, his new pastor imposed a righteousness test on the congregation. If the church refused to follow his lead, he would resign.

Few things surprise me after thirty years in ministry, but some just burn my biscuits. This is one of them.

What’s a righteousness test? Righteousness tests are additions that pastors, elders, and other church people make to the New Testament requirements for church membership, personal holiness, or spirituality. Like the legalists that pestered Paul’s church plants from Cyprus to Corinth, Christians who impose these tests subtract from the finished work of Christ on the Cross and divide the Church.

The Church at Galatia was a good example. Even though the first Church council had ruled to the contrary, certain Jewish believers were trying to impose circumcision on Gentile believers as a requirement for salvation.[1]

Self-designated “super-spirituals” in Corinth followed a similar pattern. Evidence of the supernatural spiritual gifts like prophecy, speaking in tongues, and words of knowledge weren’t confused with salvation. Still, they were considered signs of who was really spiritual and who wasn’t.[2]

We conservative evangelicals are no better. Consider a few of the righteousness tests we have imposed on each other over the past thirty years.

If you don’t vote Republican, you cannot be a Christian. If you don’t speak in tongues, you aren’t as spiritual as I am. If you weren’t baptized by immersion, you probably aren’t saved. If you aren’t a five-point Calvinist, you are probably a heretic. If you are a five-point Calvinist, you are probably a heretic. If you don’t participate in the latest program outlined in (insert famous Christian author here)’s book, you are a second-class church member. If you don’t believe in the pre-wrath rapture of the Church, your salvation is suspect. If you didn’t walk the aisle and pray the sinner’s prayer with visible tears of repentance, you probably aren’t saved. If you aren’t a 24-hour day, six-day creationist, you have denied the gospel. If you don’t homeschool your kids, you are worldly. The list is endless.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Simply put, we are so insecure that we need something to make us feel superior to others. Paul said it well in 1 Corinthians 4:6-7.

Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? [3]

The pastor I mentioned above submitted his resignation last week. The church split and my friend is grieving. My guess is, so is God.

I am not encouraging sinful self-indulgence, doctrinal ambiguity, or compromise with our post-Christian culture. But I do appeal to all evangelicals: stop imposing righteousness tests on each other. We have more important things to do and more significant problems to solve.

For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

“ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,

‘every knee will bow before me;

every tongue will acknowledge God.’ ” z

12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.[4]


[1] See Acts 15:1-29.

[2] See 1 Corinthians 2 – 4

[3] The New International Version. (2011). (1 Co 4:6–7). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] The New International Version. (2011). (Ro 14:7–13). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

2 thoughts on “RIGHTEOUSNESS TESTS Additions that Subtract and Divide

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