Legalism--driving away the spiritually inquisitive for centuries

I got a bee in my bonnet the other day because of a convergence of faith-oriented circumstances that simply made me incredulous.

The first was a conversation that happened at once of my workplaces between two coworkers, who
were talking about how they have a desire to find a community of faith, but how stringent rules around divorce, annulment, and baptism left them feeling sneered at and "unfit" for certain congregations they visited.

(Honestly, I'm about as big an opponent of divorce you will find, especially when the family has children. But this post will go way off into left field if I start down that road, which isn't what I'm hoping to talk about. The point is, the church's attitude about previous divorce in people's lives, and the fine lines between what they recognized as a marriage and what they didn't, too often sours a person's perception of faith in general.)

This particular work conversation wasn't the one that left me gaping, was all too familiar a topic, given my family heritage.

The second conversation was the one that had me flummoxed. My husband and I were discussing a church in our area that adheres to a policy that forbids their members from activities like dancing, movie watching, and drinking alcohol. Once again, I can see why people committed to honoring God with their lives would opt to avoid, say, 50 Shades of Grey, or grinding with practical strangers in a grungy club, or doing shots until you start saying/doing stupid things you regret--but ZERO movies? What if it's an Alex Kendrick flick? (I, personally have my reasons for skipping those, but again, rabbit trail.) What about a glass of wine over your anniversary dinner with your spouse? And as for dancing, that rule has been around for a really long time, back when dancing scarcely involved the touching of arms, let alone any other body parts, so its origins couldn't be about the sex-without-penetration nature of "dancing" today. And do these modern churches only mean partner dancing, or is ballet out too?

The two conversations happened in the same day, and so it was a very clear picture of a sad scenario. There are people out there who WOULD go to church--people who need God, who could accept the beautiful gift of salvation, but have lost any desire to hang around churched people because of extra-biblical or theologically fuzzy rules that frame the only picture they have of Christ.

It seems to me there are a lot of churches building membership guidelines around the assumption that if you give someone an inch they'll take a mile, and it's true that we as men and women are sinfully inclined to make ungodly choices without proper accountability. But in my opinion, accountability what it comes down to--how about we formulate relationships within the body of Christ so that we can spur one another on toward good choices, to be in the world without being of it? Instead, churches build walls of rules to hide behind.

By creating legalistic, insular enclaves in our churches, we not only lose all perspective and completely forget to speak the language of those outside our bubble, but we make it impossible to do what American Evangelicals are constantly crowing about: bringing in non-believers so that they can hear the truth of the gospel. Just as bad, we perpetuate the plastic, performance-based standards that isolate even believers from one another. "What if they find out we took the kids to see Big Hero 6?" "What if they see me at the liquor store?" Seriously? Are these questions believers should be worrying about?

Worse, are these questions people beginning to explore faith should have to navigate in seeking Christ? There have got to be ways churches can communicate the message, "Come as you are. Grow into the amazing masterpiece God intends you to be." I guess we, as believers, have to decide if we are committed to loving people, no matter where they are on that journey.


  1. I have a friend, with a sorted past, who felt awkward speaking with her lady friends at church about her past. Not because she felt guilty or ashamed, but because out of a group of 10 women, she was the only one who had sex before marriage (or at least would admit to it). We've made church to be the place for people who have never "sinned" before. If you're something other than that, you're an oddity and can't relate to the other people around you. Aren't church goers supposed to be just the opposite... Admitted sinners, looking for redemption.


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