Children and Legalism – Part 1

Jesus and LoveDrawing by Tabitha Jeub

A couple weeks ago, Wendy and I were taken out to eat by some new friends. “We’ve been following your blog for some time now,” they said. “It seems like you’re saying, ‘We tried that legalism crap and had enough of it.'” That’s a fair assessment of our standing on religion, I suppose. This and the next post explains it a little deeper.

Here is something worth getting angry over: legalism. Does that come as a surprise to you? Wendy and I are in love with Jesus, how God is working in our lives (and he is!), we read the Bible daily, attend church regularly, have family devotions, etc.

At the risk of alienating our legalistic friends, let me say this: The Jeubs avoid legalism. We’re quite irritated by it. We love Jesus, no doubt, but we cringe at some who claim the same Lord yet cling to superficial works of the faith rather than His Love.

I think you know the type. Legalism is a twisted religion. I often call it “Phariseeism,” a reference to the Pharisees of old that Jesus grew so angry with. They weren’t the casual laymen of Jesus’ day. They were the religious leaders, arguably should have known better, who aspired to perfection rather than love. I know families who — instead of an aspiration to follow Christ — will aspire to perfection, as if it is possible. They may claim to be Christians, but their lives are anything but a resemblance of Jesus Christ.

It is ironic, really. While they think themselves religious and devout, they are arrogant and conceited. They boast of their behavior, not of their love. Love, in fact, is trivial, optional, a fuzzy feeling that comes and goes but is not paramount to Christianity. Proud. Holier than thou. They quote all sorts of verses about truth, the Law, dominion, head coverings, whatever. Rarely do pharisaical folks quote verses about love, even though these verses are claimed to be the most important commandments in Scripture.

Twisting Scripture

One such scripture is one we quote often, “Blessed is the man who has his quiver full [of children]” (Psalm 127). It lends to allowing God have control of your fertility. We’re definitely in that camp. Our book Love Another Child drills down into that conviction. It’s a belief with a tremendous amount of Scriptural precedent. We love to speak of the beautiful blessing of children, the wholeness of God’s design of the family. Wendy and I are telling it to you straight: there is little more fulfilling than a house full of love, and children exemplify love.

But any household without love is a huge disappointment. Sometimes terror. The size of the family doesn’t matter much. Wendy and I see parents misunderstand our message, erringly wrapping it in religious bondage that somehow claims children as the answer — somehow the reward — of a life of faith.

There are several great works that are worth pursuing, and the big one we keep referring to is children. We’re just insisting that love is more important, and we’ll go so far as to say that a loving family of a couple kids is more important than an unloving family with a dozen. Love is the most important commandment. Period.

But the legalism argument raises the blood pressure of the legalists when, more often than not, they could use more love in their lives. A fellow large-family mom sent me pages and pages of reasons that this message (family, love, children, Jesus) was off target. In fact, sinful. To her, Wendy and I needed to spend more time talking about the evils of birth control. Love Another Child insists that your calling to “have another child” is a personal calling, that our emphasis on loving another child was somehow misleading and unscriptural. She prefaced her long letter, “I want to share with you the scriptures that contradict everything you are writing about, but I don’t want to enter a debate with you.”

In other words, here’s my opinion. I disagree with you. But don’t give me any reasons to believe otherwise. That’s a key flag of a religious Pharisee: I’m right, you’re wrong, and I don’t want to talk any more about it.

And to think her argument was about children. Have them, but loving them is trivial. I can’t tell you how hideous such a worldview can be. If you follow this woman’s reasoning, your life will be filled with turmoil. This woman’s house is extremely religious, but her home is not a loving home. How unfortunate this is.

No, “unfortunate” isn’t strong enough. A home without love is more than just unfortunate. Oh well, the kids and parents hate each other, but good thing they’re being raised with good theology. Legalism is evil. Parents who hate one another, siblings who constantly fight, every day self-centeredness and misery — oh my, such a life is really no life at all. Certainly not a life God intended it to be. It is an evil undermining of the beautiful blessing a family is meant to be. The blessing of life, the sharing of growing love, stomped out by a legalistic parent who thinks of love as window dressing far down the list of more important behaviors.

See, Wendy and I believe God is calling couples — particularly Christian couples — to love children, more children. That’s been our experience. When we respond to the conviction to Love Another Child, we are more and more convinced at what a blessing children are — the exact opposite of what the world dishes out. That conviction was felt early on by us and is shared by millions of others. What a blessing it has been, why would anyone not want to share in it?

So much to say on this topic! I’m telling you, there is depth in this message. A family who is free from the weight of legalism has a beautiful life ahead of them. My, oh, my, how great life can be in a family where love abounds.

And my, oh, my, how this sends the legalists into a frenzy! I’m going to post more about this next time. For now, let Wendy and I know what you think.

About Chris Jeub

Chris is the father of 16 children, busily running the family businesses and learning the depths of love along the way.

  • Pam

    I read your book Love in the House.  We could greatly identify. Thank you.

    Yes, legalism can lack love and focus on outward appearance, fear of man over God, and  rigid ‘convictions’. These ‘convictions’ we later realized were the ‘tight rules that our children found strangling’. We lived that and our oldest two walked into a freer world by 19.
    We were greatly humbled and made many changes, crying out to God.  We have noticed that our next ones are confident and better about making wise decisions. We asked forgiveness of the older two and now they greatly respect us; and we them. They have been scarred by religion, and burnt by Christian friends in youth group who also lacked love, and have found solace in accepting non-Christian circles. For now. We pray daily that the love of Christ will get through.

    A  legalist needs loving counsel from a person that he admires and trusts. They are trying to please God to the utmost–and in the process they zealously try to outdo everyone else. It is pride, but they (0r we) can’t see that. Love wins. Relationships thrive on love, not harsh rules.  All this to say there is one thing we must always remember. ‘There is no formula or Christ wouldn’t have had to die on that cross. He is the turner of hearts and we can follow every ‘right’ rule and create every ‘right’ atmosphere…and we can still have a child that walks. It is Christ, not us. About Him and through Him and for His glory.

    • Chris Jeub

      Wow, your story is VERY much like ours. Thank you for posting this! I’m sure others can relate and learn from your testimony, and I’m glad to hear your older kids have.

    • Sheila

      Hi Pam,
                  I have to say that my eldest son was also badly treated at a church youth group where there was a definite lack of love for new people joining. I felt so disappointed for him and it affected his confidence  for a long time.

  • Sheila

    Hi Chris,
                    This is a very interesting post indeed. Children need love more than anything else and a family that prides themselves on a set of rules that stifles their children is way off what the biblical model for the family should be.
                     Many of the teachings that I have heard, especially connected to the Quiverfull movement, seem to be very legalistic. They seem to focus on a long list of rules which try to instill good character in their children but mention little about love. If the love of Christ is in them their character will bear witness to that. If they are just forced to obey rules it is uncertain whether they are doing it just to please their parents or whether it is an outpouring of the love that is in their hearts.
                   Of course families need rules for discipline  purposes and children need boundaries to learn acceptable and unacceptable ways to behave but this should always be motivated by a love for our children that wants the best for them. Legalisic families do seem to be all about presenting a perfect front to those looking on but no family can expect perfection from their children or indeed the adults in the family.
                  I have read articles that call this type of Christianity “Jesus +” which means that  the love of Christ and his grace is not sufficient  and that people feel the need to add on a long list of rules to make themselves feel superior to others. If only they would realise that Christ is all we need and if we are truly following Him love will flow from us to our children and those around us. This love will be a better witness to people that we meet than what we wear (skirts only/headcoverings ), what we do and don’t eat and where we gather to worship. Love is absolutely the most important thing in families whether we have two children or a dozen!

    • Chris Jeub

      You are right on. I believe that there are a LOT of people in the quiverful “movement” who love aspects of their teachings, but are uneasy with the list of rules. I think they’re convictions are right, Love is the answer. Heh, I guess we’re one of uneasy ones.

      “Jesus +” — that’s the first I’ve heard of that one. Interesting!

  • Sarah

    You mentioned the headcovering in this post only briefly and I know that your main goal of this post is in referring to legalism and children.  But it seems that you may have never met people who are truly Christians who put LOVE first and still have convictions about that and many other issues.  I am one of them.  I wear a headcovering, but only began recently.  I feel like I need to say that I wear it because I Love God SOOO Much!  I Want to be in submission to HIM!  Sometimes these convictions are based in love, just as is our conviction about loving as many children as He gives us.

    • Chris Jeub

      Trust me, this list could have been MUCH longer. But I put it into a list with “truth,” too. I’m not speaking against truth, but you suspect I’m speaking against head coverings?

      To be honest, I know little of the teachings of head coverings. I only know that the Bible references it lightly, but some have made it a religious action they think sets them apart. Such practices are common threads of the legalist’s web, so I haven’t given head coverings much attention.

      My point is simple, more central: love God with all your heart. You cannot miss the mark on love. If you’ve got that right, then you are right with Him.

      • Anonymous

        A more gentle answer would have been the kind thing to do.

      • Guest

        wow I never thought of it that way!

  • Hisabidinglove

    I think the point Sarah was trying to make was that one can have convictions for their family and still put love first.  For example, look at the Duggar family.  The love in their home is obvious, but they do have convictions, to wear skirts for the ladies for example.  They themselves will tell you it isn’t a RULE, but it is something they feel God wants for their family personally.  Do you agree that you can still have convictions that are from the Lord and put love first??


    • Ghhjgh

      They SAY it isn’t a rule. They’d look bad if it was a rule

    • Sheila

      I love the Duggar family and whilst it is obvious that there is a lot of love in their house, there are a lot of rules. These are not just personal choices for them but a set of instructions from Bill Gothard and ATI. This is legalism in the extreme sense of the word.

      • Guest

         I agree Sheila. Bill Gothard is very popular where I live.  I live a few minutes from the Duggars and many of my friends and family members know them personally. All of my homeschooling  friends excluding a few are in ATI. I have often wondered if I will put my kids in ATI to meet other homeschoolers.  I have been through all of Bill Gothards seminars, some things I agree with and some things I don’t.
        Personally, all of my friends in ATI and the families I know who are in/ were in ATI are very good families and nice people. 
        I like many things about Mr. Gothard, but then I too find myself thinking he is too legalistic and lacking plain and simple love.

        • Chris Jeub

          This is our take on ATI, too. Not for us, but Wendy and I know a lot of fantastic families who do it. And there is a ton of homeschool curriculum we don’t jive with, so we’re not singling out ATI here.

          Wendy and I don’t often condemn entire organizations. Hasty generalizations on legalism isn’t fair to good, hard working folks working in God’s Kingdom. We feel it is like condemning a restaurant because they serve liquor. We may not like the liquor, but they’re still serving food.

          • Pam

            We also were in ATI for years. Lot’s of wonderful families are. It can be truly inspiring. We and our ATI peers kinda thought if we did all these ‘right things’, it would be like a formula for that ‘Christlike family in the picture’. We weren’t told that. We just came to that on our own, and thereby began to miss the mark.

            Because who doesn’t want to be that large smiling, godly family? When our children rebelled, a godly friend reminded me that that picture is just one moment of time. It is not a true picture.

            • Chris Jeub

              Very good point!

    • Chris Jeub

      Can you still have convictions and put love first? Absolutely! Our conviction to love another child falls into that category.

  • Yet

    Loving your kids is hardly news. Most people can do it without the help of a book

  • T. Gates

    We LOVE our children and try hard to love others!  You’re right: it’s most important to love  the ones you have instead of trying to be the one with the most children and not loving any of them.  What do you say to couples when one would love to let God decide how many they should have and the other feels differently?

    • Chris Jeub

      Good question. Wendy and I have a blog post queued up for the future on this. Quick answer: We believe both parents should be in unison. No agreement, good to wait.

      • GM

        So, “loving another child” is not important if one spouse doesn’t want to love another child?

        • Chris Jeub

          Oh, GM, you’re always trolling ahead. You’ll have to wait and see!

          • GM

            Asking a question is trolling? You guys can’t tolerate disagreement.

  • Nameismaxine

    well said, love is the answer…it is often times that people don’t know how to love as Jesus would have them love…it is when we turn our hearts to Him and His word daily can we learn to be more like Him

  • Abby

    Legalism is a very interesting subject, and I agree with you, it is “twisted” because I feel Christian Legalism comes from man, not God. It can fall into any denomination (or non-denominational church). It’s almost as if many Legalists add things to the faith, so believing and trusting in Jesus that he died on the cross to save us is not enough, you have to follow a list of rules too (I’m not talking about things like the 10 commandments I will say, I mean other rules).

    I don’t know if it falls under Legalism, but I have experienced closed churches, met families who state that Christian children should’nt associate with “sinners” (the strive for perfectionism, how ungodly in truth), families who seem to worship the father rather than God, and in the context of your post, are certainly fixated on the number of children rather than appreciating each and every one. Let me clarify – I came across a lot of stuff when I started homeschooling and went to a conference and came out pretty shaken – the focus seeming to be about getting your children into line by “crushing the spirit” out of them and basically turning them into robots. That is not love, not at all.

    But yes – legalism comes from man – it goes beyond say dressing modestly, to saying you won’t get to heaven unless every last inch of you is coverered. It isn’t reaching out in love to children and others, it’s keeping your children locked away and told not to associate with anyone “unsaved”. It isn’t about helping others in need out of love and general moral duty, it’s bragging about it and waiting for praise.

    Love for everyone is what is needed, not just a love of a certain type or a love of the “perfect Godly family portrait” if you get what I mean, appearing loving and happy, but as you said above, no true love for the human being.

    • Chris Jeub

      Part II goes into examples like this. Thanks for posting, Abby!

      • Mamabear175

        hello, i’m looking very much forward to that next post – as I have been struglling for quite some time with finding balance. How to be in the world but not OF the world. How to balance scriptures like “bad company corrupts good morals” or “whatsoever is noble etc…” with not becoming a pharisee. With not getting a proud or holier than thou-attitude. With how to shelter yet at the same time not make weird aliens out of my children 😉
        I recently had difficulty with the whole pants/skirts thing for girls….oh it’s so hard to know what the right thing to do is!

        I suppose you’ve read the article “homeschooling bllindspots”?

        anyway, can’t wait to read more. thanks.

  • BJ

    I love this post.  I can’t wait to read more!

  • Manyhandsmusic

    I came from a largish (8 kids) family and we were in ATI.  It was a blessing to our lives in some ways, namely that it was a support group, focused on character development, that it encouraged the fathers to be the spiritual leaders and that it drew the family together in the Word everyday.

    That being said, my husband (also from a large ATI family) and I would STRONGLY advise parents to NOT JOIN this group. I wish I could tell you how many things are taken out of scriptural context, how many young men and women that I grew up with have struggled with having a balanced worldview, struggled with secret addictions, have felt the unbelievably real judgmental attitude that comes when you are thrown together with other youth at training centers and conferences, how many men and women we know that are still unmarried and living with their parents. And more.
    There is real danger as a christian to be a part of any “group” or “program ” that states that this is the real way to live, dress, eat, educate, etc. , even the ones that sound good. I think that Bill Gothard started out with good intentions, and even now would be horrified if he really knew how families have unknowingly made him and his teachings an  idol before God.

     This is where the seeds of legalism have been planted. I do know some families that SEEM like they came out of the program unscathed, but almost every family that I personally know have had some very serious problems come up,  my husband’s family and my own as well. People are human and will naturally follow a leader, often blindly. This is why it has come to our attention in OUR family that making God our only GOD is the way we must live, and teach our family.

    The things that were good that I mentioned above, are things that you can do in your family, and should do, on your own. As for a support group: BE CAREFUL that you do not lose your sense of who is your LEADER, read God’s Word, and be like the Bereans who examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul ( or any man, in our case ) said was true. Here is a web address  to a blog from a post ATI student. These blog posts are very thorough.

     Hello, another angle here from Andrew. The main thing that I that I regret that comes across VERY STRONGLY from the ATI circle is this: the “convictions” that are preached, taught, and expected from every family involved in ATI are expressed as though they ARE GOD’s DIVINE WILL for every believer. There are many TRADITIONS pushed upon every participant. If you don’t live by these TRADITIONS you are looked at as if you are:
    “carnal”, “worldly”, and “giving ground to satan” in your life.
      This is exactly what the Pharisees did to God’s Law. They used their own teachings and traditions to proclaim themselves as holy and set apart for God. However their traditions were not DIVINE and some were directly opposed to the expressed meaning of God’s Law (e.g. by Jesus to honor your parents). I see this program comes close to this by portraying people or ministries that don’t follow ATI (Gothard)  TRADITIONS as if they are working against what God perfect will.
       God is bigger than our TRADITIONS and our GENERATIONS. Our TRADITIONS (or you could also say our lifestyle methods)  should NEVER, NEVER, NEVER be taught, preached, pushed upon anyone else as DIVINE TRUTH for everyone in every culture to live by.
      The church has always struggled with this problem from the beginning. Look in Acts where the Judaisers caused Peter to stumble and Paul had to confront him. Look at the Catholic church, how about the Seventh Day Adventist church, and really any group that proclaim themselves as “the only ones” who really know the TRUTH.
      God’s beautiful bride (the church) is HIS, and HE is the ONLY ONE to wholly follow and love. Love HIM with complete abandonment to self and don’t seek your identity in any other man, program, institution, or group. Love HIS CHURCH which is bigger and better than any TRADITIONS you may follow or enjoy. Your traditions and lifestyle methods may be very beneficial to your family but DON’T confuse your TRADITIONS and LIFESTYLE METHODS with GOD’s written WORD and WILL for all believers.

  • Hisabidinglove

    When it comes to a group like ATI, my observation has been that there are families who use ATI as a service, a tool, like the Duggars/Bates, etc.  And then there are families who hold it up as as god and make it all about following rules and sticking to the ‘manual’ etc.   THAT is where the problem comes in.

    In our family, we ladies wear dresses and have long hair.  We don’t judge others for not doing so.  We think the Jeub girls and Wendy are all lovely and they wear pants and we have NO problem with that.  :)  My dh’s grandmother, the most Godly woman I’ve ever met, wears pants and has short hair.  That is find with us. 

    We simply do it b/c that is what we believe God is leading *our particular family* to do.  Same thing with choosing to allow God to plan our family (6 and counting!!  :)  I’ll be so thrilled if we are blessed again!), with our tv standards, internet guidelines, etc. 

    They aren’t our ‘This is the Godly to way to live commandments’ or anything.  It’s more like ‘These are the guidelines we believe God has given our family ‘  For the older children, we’re happy to delve into our biblical reasoning for thes guidelines.  I think that is highly important.  That we don’t make it a ‘this is just the rule.  period.’  That we are willing to explain why we feel this is the right thing to do, that we’re always open to the Lord revealing that we might be wrong, etc. 

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  • AndesGal

    Love vs. Legalism–pretty clear in the Scriptures!  Love wins!!  Over the years we have read many different Christian “child-rearing” advice books and mulled over different thoughts…but in the end, we landed on GRACE and LOVE!  God has given us SO MUCH GRACE–how can we not give grace to our children?  

    Yes, we could try to make a lot of rules so that our children look like they love the Lord.  Or we can focus on their hearts.  God said there are two things we should do:  LOVE Him with all our hearts, souls and minds, and LOVE our neighbors as ourselves.  

    Those two commands don’t express rules–they express what we WILL DO when we are believers–and guidelines to help us know what is BEST for us to choose to do.  When our children LOVE the Lord our God with all their hearts, souls and minds, they become more and more like Christ–from the inside out!

    Read I John 3 about love–amazing!  

    We have 8 wonderful children (and yes, they all have their struggles)–but we are blessed that they love the Lord (so far) and desire to please Him.  It is God’s GRACE!!  People ask us–“why haven’t your children rebelled?”  It is God’s grace!  I don’t know why they haven’t.  But I do know we have loved them and given them grace–they don’t have to be afraid to share where they are in their relationship with the Lord, or what they are thinking–and that they know they are loved!  Thank you Lord, for your love and grace so freely given to us!!

    • Chrisjeub

      Wow. Couldn’t have said it better. We are on the same page, AndesGal!

  • Margaret

    Fabulous!  I totally agree.

    We tend to fall off the edge one way or another.  Either “love is irrelevant, I must have more children, the body count matters!” or “I don’t think I can/want to love more, and I won’t pursue a heart change”This understanding also eliminates any idea of “competetive” childbearing, or the idea that the couple with the most kids “wins” in some way.  The point is to be *willing* to love more.  To be open.  If we do trust God, and consider him the ultimate Creator and Planner, we don’t need to worry about how many.  That’s how me me with my 3, and y’all with your hoard can end up in the same place on this issue, even though there’s a huge variance in actual number. :)

    • Chris Jeub

      You’re right. We are in the EXACT same place.

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