Leaving Legalism

To leave any movement can be difficult going for sure. How do you do that? Where do you go? What is the first step? I’ve never left a movement before and knew nothing about the process. Needless to say, no one I knew had ever left the movement, since we were in the same boat, so they didn’t know what to do either. And if anyone left the movement it was an unwritten assumption that you didn’t speak with them anymore, so if someone was to leave you couldn’t ask them how it went because they were “marked” for their defection.

This is sort of humorous now because I was considered damaged goods while I was in the movement. Though my role was limited and I was miserable I still acted as though the opinion of the perceived “shakers and movers” of the movement mattered. What I had to do was repent of my sin that believed people’s opinion actually had controlling meaning to me (Read: Fear of Man). I was a proud, big-time people pleaser and I wanted people’s approval. I was not getting their approval and to tell them that I was leaving the movement would have been the worst thing I could have done as far as people-pleasing was concerned. There was already distance from me to them and if I left there would be double-distance. I would be totally “outside the camp.”

What did I choose? I chose to say nothing. Instead I went on a long, private journey. And to be honest I don’t think I could have articulated these things to my friends anyway. It would have been futile and frustrating. I didn’t understand what was going on in my heart and I definitely couldn’t articulate the complexity of it all to my friends. From their perspective it would be like trying to convince an American why you didn’t believe in America anymore AND you were going to become a Muslim. To leave the movement is illogical to them. I kept quiet. I didn’t understand it all and I knew they did not as well.

So off I went. I was heading out into uncharted waters of evangelicalism, with no idea where I was going, with no compass whatsoever, in the middle of the night so to speak and no one knew and no one seemed to care. (Read: self-pity) I was leaving; no one asked how I was doing, where I was going, what I was up to, how much I hurt and/or could they extend a hand to help. I was on my own and it was a lonely despairing time, a Pharisee adrift.

What I really didn’t put together is that I had been alone since 1988. It was actually 1992 when I left fundamentalism or at least embarked on an exodus. I suppose officially I didn’t leave fundamentalism until 1997 and some would say until 2003. Depending on your perspective I would have to agree with the latter because you can physically leave the movement in your mind, as I did in 1992, but it takes years to get the effect of it out of your system. And truthfully you never do. I’m a born legalist. It’s in my heart.

Once you get the fundamentalist movement out of your life you are still left with legalism, the essence of the bad part of fundamentalism in your heart. At the core of our being is a desire to merit righteousness so the truth of the matter is we’re all legalists in our hearts, though we don’t like to think that way. In short, I’m a self-righteous person.

Fundamentalism just has a way of exacerbating what is already abiding in the soul. Leaving Fundamentalism gets the unnecessary out of your life, but the residual effect of the fall is always lying dormant in the heart, which has nothing to do with Fundamentalism. I cut the shackles loose from my soul and now I only have to deal with my core corruption rather than the additional bondage of a man-made legalistic culture.

The good news is that now I’m in a context where fellow, self-acknowledged sinners are willing to come alongside another sinner to help him repent, grow and glorify God.

This entry was posted in Reflections of a Legalist by RickThomasNet. Bookmark the permalink.

About RickThomasNet

Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking. In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).

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