I Survived the Christian Right
Ten Lessons I Learned on My Journey Home
Lesson 3: Avoid Legalism Like the Plague - One day I was enjoying a beer with a friend in a popular pub near my home when I noticed someone who went to my former evangelical church. After I picked myself off the floor due to shock from seeing him in a bar, we greeted each other and I asked if he still attended.
“I finally left last year,” the man said.
“Do you mind me asking why you left?” I asked.
“I got tired of jumping through hoops.”
What an apt way of describing what I also experienced in the majority of the six or seven evangelical churches I attended over the years. Why do some churches make our faith journey into an obstacle course on a field of required religious practices and doctrines? Could legalistic control have something to do with it? Again, there are some admirable exceptions, but as Brennan Manning once said, “the American church accepts grace in theory, but denies it in practice.”
Evangelical Christians largely conform to a performance-oriented approach to God: Regularly attend church to worship God our way, pray and read the Bible daily, go to a home group, adhere to a particular statement of faith, believe in the right doctrines and the future return of Christ, be pro-life, dress modestly, don’t drink (or if you do, please don’t do it in front of us), avoid questionable movies, don’t put swear words, sex scenes, or questionable doctrines in your books, refrain from producing music on a secular recording label, and whatever you do, don’t vote for a Democrat. And those are the more moderate rules! In summary, avoid contamination by the world, heretics, and liberals and insulate yourself in the squeaky-clean alternate evangelical world we created.
I saw many evangelicals forget that “we are no longer under the supervision of the law,” and “whoever loves his fellow human being has fulfilled the law.” The lesson? Evangelicalism is inundated with religious baggage and a host of man-made written and unwritten regulations that have nothing to do with authentic spirituality. Since “Christ is the end of the law” or a law-based approach to God, we are free to govern ourselves under Christ’s one overriding law of love.
Find ways to love God and love your neighbor and don’t worry about fitting into some legalistic evangelical mold. Or any kind of Christian mold, for that matter.