Sunday, January 10, 2010

Avoid Legalism Like the Plague - Lesson 3

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.


Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I got to your blog through Luke Gillespie's profile (which I have to get back to soon). And I got to his profile through a conversation started on Frank Shaeffer's blog.

Just wanted to say this line really struck me:

"we are free to govern ourselves under Christ’s one overriding law of love."

I come from a pretty liberal christian background myself. I left the institutional church while in my teen years, but I am finding myself still curious about the ethical aspects of all religions. I'm still quite skeptical when it comes to the role of faith, but I did want to say that I do recognize the genius of the 'law of love' as you put it.

I guess I'm trying to say we might be on different pages, or in different books, but I'm totally with you, all the same. So thanks. I will check a little more out and read a bit. Thanks for writing, and please keep it up!

Have you heard of this website?


Michael Camp said...

I really appreciate your comment. There is "genius" in having only one law, the law of love, but it comes at a price... losing control of the masses, something the fundamentalist/evangelical church is unwilling to do. It's too scary.

Keep checking in. Your comment about being different but the same is one thing I'm trying to do: Bridge gaps to help people receive the benefits of religous thought without being in bondage to the cult of Religion.