Across Pacific Magazine


By Mark Ellis
Monday, June 21, 2004

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA  (ANS) -- He was on a performance-based treadmill that sucked the life out of his religious experience. Then he discovered news that was almost too-good-to-be-true—God’s amazing grace.

“I’ve existed in the swamps of legalism,” says Greg Albrecht, executive director of Plain Truth Ministries, and author of “Bad News Religion: The Virus That Attacks God’s Grace” (World Publishing). “To be Christ-centered is to live in His grace,” Albrecht says. “Many of us are not experiencing that.”

He believes many Christians are not at rest in their faith. “We’re troubled, worried, bothered, and upset,” he observes. “Unfortunately, much of that comes from religious legalism.”

Albrecht spent over 30 years in Herbert W. Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God before his mother came to him one day in tears and tried to persuade him they were involved in a cult. “I was a true believer,” he writes in his book, “and although I knew that many people in the world thought Armstrongism was a cult, I knew better.” Albrecht had become an ordained minister in the church, taught classes at the college run by Armstrong, and pastored over 500 young people as dean of students.

After Armstrong’s death in 1986, Albrecht began a heart wrenching discovery process that led him to conclude Armstrong’s house—and his own--were built on sand. It should be noted that after Armstrong died, leaders in the Worldwide Church of God began to realize that many of his doctrines were not biblical and also rejected those teachings, just as Albrecht did. Today the church is in agreement with the statement of faith of the National Association of Evangelicals.
“I came to the painful awareness that I had never known Jesus,” Albrecht writes in his book. “I was a religious professional.” Although Albrecht once taught a college class called “Life and Teachings of Jesus,” he suddenly realized he never knew the real Jesus.

“All my life I had been an actor, just reading the script,” he adds. “The only thing that any religion that is not based on God’s grace can do is to help you read your lines, obey the rules and jump through the hoops it prescribes.”

While Albrecht saw the cultic nature of Armstrong’s teachings, he was also offended by a legalistic environment that required him to “to be more righteous, be better, work harder, give, serve, qualify, improve, and do more” to earn God’s favor.

After leaving Armstrong’s church, Albrecht was startled to find similar thinking in mainstream churches. “Coming out of Armstrongism and coming to Christ, the amazing thing I find is degrees of the same kind of legalism existing and thriving within Christendom,” Albrecht says. “Many in churches not labeled as cults are nonetheless enslaved by some degree of legalistic teaching.”

In the book, Albrecht quotes C.S. Lewis: “If the divine call does not make us better, it will make us very much worse. Of all bad men, religious bad men are the worst.” Albrecht believes grace to be “religion’s” worst enemy. He defines religion as any system of rules and regulations that promises to increase a person’s standing with God on the basis of their actions.  (Pictured: Book cover of Bad News Religion. Christians have trouble accepting God’s grace. The result is a “Bad News Religion” that drains joy and life from believers. This book is a call for Christians to shift the focus from our own religious efforts back to the work of God and his grace).

Albrecht has talked with some pastors concerned that if they emphasize grace too much, they will lose control of their congregations. “What are they worried about, that they’ll lose control to Jesus?” he asks. “If you preach grace, holiness will be given as an outworking of the Holy Spirit,” he maintains. “Jesus will work in them and holiness will result.”

“There is no system to control humans or guarantee humans won’t sin,” Albrecht notes. “Those who preach grace and those who live grace will fall—that’s the scandal of grace,” he says. Jesus gives us freedom knowing His children will stumble.

Mainstream churches often use legalistic rhetoric such as: “Of course we are saved by grace. But what does God expect us to do once he saves us?” In these churches, messages on grace are often followed by a legalistic “counterpunch”—messages that center on external acts and behaviors that should be followed to gain God’s favor.

“Preaching and teaching that judges Christians solely upon external actions almost inevitably leads to manipulation for the purpose of creating guilt and shame,” Albrecht notes. He views this as an absolute contradiction to the gospel of Jesus, which should be based on faith alone, grace alone and Christ alone.
The truth most find difficult to believe is this: nothing you can do will make God love you any more or any less than He already does.

Albrecht believes the most effective way to counter the seduction of legalism is to center one’s faith, practice, and devotion on the cross of Christ. “The cross of Christ is the sign of the end of performance-based religion,” he writes. “The cross of Christ is the sign that our relationship with God is no longer defined by externals but by the internal working of God in our hearts and minds.”

Mark Ellis is a Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service. He is also an assistant pastor in Laguna Beach, CA. Contact Ellis at

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