Today, I want to touch on a topic that frequently gets ignored in my circles. Partially, because it tends to be prevalent in my circles. 🙂 I want to talk about legalism. This is a topic that has become increasing concerning to me over the past couple of years, and I want to do my best to talk about it with objectivity and not in a judgmental way. I come at this certain brand of legalism with my own biased opinion that has been formed from past experiences, and as time goes on, it only builds. So, I apologize if it comes across to some as bashing legalists or is read in an overly negative context. I find it important to think about, however, and here are my thoughts concerning it. Legalism is defined as “pertaining to law”, and the kind of legalism I want to discuss is that which we Christians have adopted.
Allow me to give my background. The church where I actually began to grow in my faith was very legalistic. (It still is.) It is strictly KJV-only, pants on women are frowned upon, and CCM (contemporary Christian music) is portrayed as being wordly and against scripture, although no scriptures were ever suggested to support this. Having said this, I am incredibly grateful for what this church did for me, at least the first year of my attendance there. As those of you who have followed this blog for a long time know, I was not heading in a good direction when I first began attending, and this church pointed me onto a better path. I needed to hear what they had to say when I first started going. So please, don’t think that I’m trying to bash that church. I still love the people that I knew there, and it really helped me to grow.
However, as time went on, and I began to develop my own faith and foundation, I began to find myself disagreeing with small things in the teachings here and there. Those small things grew until I found myself consistently aggravated by certain teachings and proclamations of “truth”. I was most irritated by the way in which these “truths” were delivered. While some of these things are not doctrinally critical, there was an attitude of spiritual superiority that made them harder to swallow. For example, the KJV is the only inspired version, drums are evil, homeschooling and courtship are the ONLY way, and that is the way it is. No one questioned it or looked to the Bible for confirmation. I completely understand and respect a church’s right and decision to not allow certain things into the church. I even see the need for that. And I’m not even saying that I disagree with all of these things. But, I am very opposed to presenting one person’s opinion of what is right as a scriptural truth when, in fact, some of those opinions are not biblical, and even sometimes open to the leading of the Holy Spirit through personal conviction.
As a result of this experience, I find that I now struggle with heading down the path of completely rejecting all legalistic rules and attitudes. I don’t want to do that, but I find that it’s my natural response to legalism. In a strange way, I’m forming my own brand of legalism. I’m insisting that I’m right, that they’re wrong, and in truth, I’m not really any different than the legalists that I’m condemning when I do that. I’m being legalistic about my own standards. And I don’t want to do that.
My dilemma lies in the middle ground. I do believe that it’s possible to not be at either end of the spectrum, but I haven’t quite reached that yet. I still explode whenever someone proclaims that CCM cannot honor God, for example. However, I think the middle ground can be obtained. (Just for the record, I don’t usually like finding middle grounds or basing things off of personal conviction – it makes it seem like I’m just finding an excuse to believe whatever it is that I want to believe. I don’t mean any of this in that context, however.) For example, I do listen to CCM. I don’t think that CCM, in general, is wrong. As I’ve stated before here, I don’t think that all CCM is God-honoring, but there are some amazing, convicting songs that I believe very much so honor and worship Him. But at the same time, I do love some hymns. I play hymns on the piano; I listen to them on my computer. I listen to both of these types of music, which one is proclaimed wrong and one of them is proclaimed to be right. There is a middle ground for these things. I just struggle with reaching that.
I am naturally a very (verrrrrry) stubborn person. My natural response to legalism is usually to shout/scream, and verbally explode to certain friends and family members. (Did I ever mention that I’m also really dramatic?) I’m not joking. And I know that this is extremely wrong. I struggle with having a graceful response to legalism. But I know that I have to find a way to deal with it in a God-honoring way.
My consistent dilemma is that the type of peer group that appeals to me most is often associated with the type of legalism that I find so offensive. I had some very dear, close friends at that church that I went to, and all but one of them had embraced this legalistic thinking. They supported the church’s teachings on CCM and KJV. (I use those two particular examples because they were two of the most outspoken ones that aggravated me.) When it came to doctrine, we were all pretty consistent, and there wasn’t much conflict there. I still loved them and we all got along perfectly fine, but I always knew that I could never talk with them about certain things because we were not in agreement.
So, what do I do? The kinds of circles that I want to be involved with have, to all of my experience and knowledge, that legalism that makes me go crazy. But at the same time, the churches that are more in line with my thinking produce peer groups and atmospheres that are not conservative enough for my preference. And I frequently find that the people in those circles don’t match up with what they preach or proclaim to hold to. I honestly can say that I feel like a one-of-a-kind, special edition of person in regard to the beliefs that I hold. I’m pretty sure that only my mother agrees with me on the things that I struggle with. (Although she doesn’t explode at legalism like I do, good for her!)
The most important thing for me to remember in light of legalism is not to take the defensive, offended side and retaliate against legalistic teachings/mindsets with sharp words of retribution. How does that show the love of Christ? How would that make a difference? I’ve admitted, and I’ll mention it again, my natural response is not very God-honoring. I need to work past that. My immediate reaction is to point out why the other person is wrong, usually a little too bluntly and without any grace or understanding. My personality doesn’t work that way. But if I’m going to try to combat unbiblical legalistic teaching, my response cannot be to strike a blow with the same rigidity that they uphold in their own teachings.
Does anyone else struggle with legalism? How do you respond?