Shouts of Legalism

We went to a bonfire party this week.  The party was held in celebration for two young men who completed their seminary training, were examined for ordination into the URCNA – and passed with flying colors.  The exam was tough compared to today’s evangelical standards.  All the more reason I was impressed at how well they both performed.

As I was thinking through the whole process these guys have gone through, somewhere in the back of my head I could still hear the nagging comments from others I know who have whispered the word, ‘legalism’ to me.

The scrolling, sometimes circular path I have traveled through evangelicalism (trying to figure it out) has allowed me to see and experience various perspectives of other Christians.  Many others who haven’t taken the opportunity to experience the depth of Christian diversity would jump at the chance to call those taking this exam ‘legalists.’  They would also apply that definition to the members of the URCNA and other like-minded federations.  I suppose that means they might now be applying that definition to me.

Watching the exuberant volleyball game; seeing various people grab a cold Guinness out of the cooler; listening to the conversation — you would be hard pressed to see legalism in these folk.  That doesn’t stop the labeling.  Labeling begins in the mind of those who have already made their mind up — whether they’ve done accurate research or not.

There is also something different in this place – around these folk.  They are serious students of God’s word.  For me, this is refreshing after swimming in a bath of nonsensical religious opinions.  I am glad I can sit under the teaching of a man who has done this kind of in-depth study.  Not that he’s perfect.  Not that he will always be right….but that he’s taken the time to wrestle with the scriptures.

The people I have met in this group will not hesitate to talk to you about God – about their path to find Him – and the reasons they feel so strongly about the Reformed faith at this juncture in their lives.  They are absolutely not the ‘frozen chosen,’ as I have been warned by other well-meaning Christians.  The people I have met are refreshingly honest.

They also sin just like the rest of us.  The difference?  They are not afraid to say the word sin nor are they afraid to point their own finger at themselves because of it.  They aren’t afraid to speak truth because in the end, they know it is the truth that truly frees you. They aren’t afraid to study the Bible deeply nor do they avoid the discussion and implementation of that study.   While other churches work hard not to ‘offend’ anyone; while many churches make excuses for why they do what they do, Reformers know that our fallen nature is offensive to God.  We all need a Redeemer — to redeem us from our sin.

My mind has been analyzing my view into this world, trying to be sure that I’ve got my own lens correctly placed and crystal clear so that I am seeing accurately.  I’ve listened to others who have cautioned me, yet the irony is that I now I see their words as legalistic.

One definition I found for legalistic says this:  Strict, literal adherence to the law or to a particular code, as of religion or morality.

I now see that these well-meaning people conform and adhere to a contemporary view of Christianity (their own code) which doesn’t always mirror the truth of God.  They are adamant in their opinion and they strictly adhere to that opinion, whether it is right or not.

Adhering to the above definition, I can tell you that the majority of Reformed people I have met aren’t legalistic in the way they are being labeled.  Certainly they are far from perfect, but they understand that we, as fallen human beings, can never be good enough — we can never conform enough to the law to be accepted by God and certainly cannot choose to be moral when our very natures cry immorality.

Do the Reformed try to honor God in their service by following what they understand has been prescribed by God as worship?  Yes.  Does that conflict with contemporary thought?  Often it does.  Contemporary thought is no different than ancient thought.  We are no more intelligent that those of old.

I have been thrilled to discover that the reformed know why they do what they do — because there is support for what they do in the Bible.  I wonder how many other churches/Christians can say they know why they worship the way they do?

The very word others try to spear into this group of people as a negative label just doesn’t hold up when you meet those who have been labeled.  Ignorance is a factor.  Opinions being stated without facts or experience to back them up.  Sometimes the strongest voice come from those who have never read God’s word — but still have an opinion about it.

When others view the Reformed world, they often choose to see legalism and intellectualism.  If only they could see the real freedom of this world!  The grace-driven, mercy-driven freedom that comes from the deep study of God’s word and a heart that desires to honor what He has said in that book.  It doesn’t mean you are a legalist.  It means you love God so much that you want to do it His way instead of your own way.

If they could only experience the depth of gratitude that comes from understanding the richness of God’s mercy on their lives!  It takes stepping into this world to see the truth of it.

2nd image (John Calvin’s Church) by Howie Luvzus (CCL)


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