Why is there legalism in some Christian churches?
Several things are primary contributors to legalism: Pride, the desire to control others and lack of correct biblical knowledge either by deliberate choice or by ignorance. The only head of any church should be Jesus Christ. Some churches are not strongly grounded in the true Word of God but rather rely on anecdotes and life stories to reach their congregations. They create their own interpretations of the Bible.
When certain church leaders tag on requirements such as strict dress codes, mandatory methods of worship and attendance and any other number of rules, then the church is no longer in keeping with the Word of God. It is one thing to have some boundaries to adhere to, but it is another thing to say that unless one follows the prescribed manmade rules then there is failure in God's eyes. This type of dynamic is prevalent throughout many churches where the hierarchy of the church is exalted and not God. It is completely unscriptural.
Legalistic churches can also be termed as abusive churches. Instead of teaching God's grace through faith these churches teach that only by obedience and certain requirements can a person be saved. In an attempt to have an orderly congregation some church leaders go too far and make demands that are unbiblical and unreasonable.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus called four fishermen to be His disciples.
"Then He said to them [the first two], "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19).
The verse goes on to say:
"They immediately left their nets and followed Him" (Matthew 4:.20).
So we have an example of Jesus calling men to follow Him and they did not have to do anything in any particular way or even change their work clothes–they simply followed Him, immediately.
The important thing is to have the right heart condition of sincerity, faith and trust in the Savior. Our outward reflection of God's love should be a manifestation of His grace and love for us. When anyone tries to add on special requirements for salvation or church attendance then the truth is not within that person. Jesus warned that there would be many false teachers in the last days.
"But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.