This began as a Twitter thread. I figured maybe this would be a good way to enter back into the blogging world. It is certainly a different tone than some of my earlier stuff, but life has a way of doing that to you.
I never would’ve considered myself sheltered, especially considering my parents were pretty open minded. But I realized I know very little about the world and how to connect to people around me, even other Christians.
I grew up in a racist community where the KKK picketed outside my school over Muslim students attending. Racial slurs + rebel flags were the norm. I didn’t realize it, but I was taught to fear people who weren’t white like me in a post 9/11 culture. I was uncomfortable in culturally diverse settings.
Then I got married at 18 to an IFB (independent fundamental baptist) preacher’s son. It hid me away from the insanity of my own family and past decisions. It gave me safety. I learned that in order to have doctrinal and moral purity, I should fear even other believers who weren’t KJVO or as separated as me. I didn’t want to be influenced by the compromising and carnal world. Reaching out to a Southern Baptist was dangerous, let alone a Muslim.
Even in the public school, I was taught a whitewashed, revisionist history. The IFB exacerbated that with their cult history of the church’s origins, conspiracy theories, and obsession with eschatology.
Again, racial slurs against Muslims were common. I sat through an entire Wednesday night service where the visiting preacher made his case for why Obama was really a Muslim and was truly born in Kenya. We had our token black preachers, but also affirmed horrific teachings like the Curse of Cain or the Curse of Ham. We balked at the idea of being racist while making jokes about fried chicken and black church. Peter Ruckman was the father of our KJVO conspiracies (double inspiration) and he was truly one of the most racist preachers of the modern fundamentalist church.
I’ve also been a SAHM (stay at home mom) for almost 11 yrs. I haven’t worked a public job since I was 17. Even joining a co op with non IFB mothers was a no go, because I didn’t want them to influence me. I often heard that women who worked were more likely to cheat on their husbands, because women are the weaker vessel and more easily deceived. I felt uncomfortable even working with other men at church on music or media.
It’s incredible just how small and narrow my worldview has been and, honestly, how socially awkward it has made me. Just the fact that I acknowledge this and desire the truth would’ve meant I was backsliding and being influenced by the world. Watching anything but FOX News meant I was slipping into the leftist regime. Listening to a pastor who didn’t use the King James just meant I desired watered down preaching to tickle my ears.
But hiding away from the world in a commune of sorts is the opposite of what God desires for His people. How am I supposed to reach them if I turn my nose up at them or fear them?! Or believe my nationality makes me superior? How am I supposed to understand the experiences of others? Life isn’t as black and white as I used to think. People’s experiences are quite nuanced. There isn’t always a simple answer to why they feel the way they do or why things have happened to them.
I’m 30 years old and it’s a wild time. I feel like Rapunzel when she first left her tower.
I still desire Biblical truth above all things, but that doesn’t mean I want to be lied to. So many are leaving the faith because they were fed these rosy pictures of American history or the origin of their Bible translation – and when they find that it isn’t true, they hit a faith crisis. The IFB church will just tell you you’re being seduced by Satan. And the unbelieving world will say it’s ALL a scam.
It’s a horrible crisis of faith that many in my generation are limping through.
This is more of a vent than it is a post providing solutions. All I know is that we have to do better with the next generation we are raising up. Because right now, I see too many casualties from this environment that was supposed to protect us. Instead, it has left us socially undeveloped and unprepared for reality. It hinders the work of the great commission that we always heard about each Sunday.
Digging our heels into false information isn’t the answer. Hiding our heads in the sand out of fear will not silence the questions. We need truth. The truth sets us free.
Okay okay, I’ll fess up. Maybe that was clickbait.
But I know someone out there will probably read this and think, “man, she’s got to give this a rest.”
I really wanted to be done talking about legalism.
Thing is – legalism isn’t done with me. It runs deep. In the past, I’ve written posts like The Postpartum Legalist to share how anxiety revealed my faulty view of God and my legalism. I believed I was on the other side of the legalistic mentality. Those posts reveal a necessary turning point, but the healing continues.
After my own personal criticism of the name, I guess you could call me the “dreaded” recovering fundamentalist. (I was over it, remember?)
Legalism affects the wife, mother, and servant of Christ that I am. It is part of my story. Healing and growing in Christ is part of my sanctification. This is the journey I’m on.
I’m not done talking about it.
Going deeper than ever before with this, I went all the way back to the early days following my conversion. I asked myself this question, probably for the first time ever:
What if so much of what you believed protected you from worldliness and sin was the very thing infected you? What if the leaven that leaveneth the whole lump was zero discipleship, topical sermons, and a false doctrine of sanctification by works?
I opened my journal last night; the one I wrote in the year I got saved. In fact, the very first entry was from the night I accepted Christ. I had bought the journal to start the new year fresh, to “be” a better Christian. (Note: I came from a baptismal regeneration + just decide to follow Jesus belief.) The Lord rocked my world and with such conviction, I realized I had never truly asked Him to save me. I hadn’t ever turned from my self righteousness and unto His perfected work on the cross.
Guys, it was beautiful. The early entries are just beautiful. Sure, I didn’t understand everything, but I was so grateful to have been set free from perfection and trying to earn Heaven on my own. In one entry, I compared my life prior to being born again to that of Buddhists – all good works and good ideas, but false religion.
It was glorious.
It wasn’t long, however, before I began to see a pattern. I was constantly questioning whether or not I was truly saved because of feelings. I freaked when I couldn’t feel God. And I took a lot of sincere, convicted notes from sermons and Sunday school lessons like these –
“Are You A Spiritual Baby?” – a message loaded with insults toward people who complain and want to be the center of attention. The term “spiritual baby” was thrown around as an insult for people who couldn’t fall in line. If you’ve got a problem, suck it up and get over it. Grow up!
“Sticking to The Old Paths” – Jeremiah 6:16. Modern versions draw crowds, Christian rock aint Christian, “if it’s new it ain’t true”, obey your pastor even when he ain’t looking, rules you don’t like are there to protect you
“Worldliness and Godliness” – Sanctification is defined as set apart for God’s service. You get sanctified by throwing out music and movies that you shouldn’t have in your life. You get sanctified by doing and being.
Oh, but the messages written down in journals have nothing on the ones written in my heart. Every time I or my husband was passive aggressively called out from the pulpit, being told God would get his money somehow if we didn’t tithe, holes being poked into my salvation, every bad thing was a consequence for my sin, I’m probably not saved if I can’t understand the KJV, I have to try harder, I need to push harder, I’m not surrendered enough, I need to throw something else out of my life, I’m the reason someone doesn’t get saved …
As I continued to read these notes and my heartfelt prayers in response, my heart broke. I truly desired to do what God wanted in my life, to see Him transform me. Sadly, I was handed a cheap imitation of sanctification. I was handed a lazy approach to discipleship. I was given feelings from an emotional song rather than a true understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit and true revival.
I was given legalism – doing the work only God can do through the works of the flesh.
I have often carried the blame, despising myself for getting caught up in something so disgusting in the sight of God. But I have to remember how I was exposed to this in my spiritual infancy. I truly knew no better and wholly believed the independent fundamental baptist church (as I knew it) was the only true church. Sure, nondenominational folk and Southern Baptists might be saved. They just weren’t right. (They also needed to be marked, feared, and avoided.)
I wanted to please God. I believed every word from my mature pastor and teachers. I trusted their advice and wisdom. I believed they had special insight into the mind of God. I believed questioning that was dangerous, as we should never touch God’s anointed.
Looking back, I grieve.
I grieve the time I lost. I grieve the works that will be burned at the judgment seat – each time I served to be seen, obeyed to be praised of men, got puffed up in my obedience, treated people poorly because of our differences. Even recently, because, guys, this stuff springs up from the sinful pride in our flesh.
Sure, I regret the mistakes of my lost teenage years. But I was dead in sin then. I knew no better.
However, here I was playing piano, playing the preacher’s wife, playing the perfect Christian in the name of Jesus. I wasn’t doing it for Jesus. I was doing it for me, for them. To elevate myself above anyone who didn’t behave just like me.
To me, my offering of my goodness to Christ is even more offensive than my promiscuous teen years.
Can you imagine? I’ve been saved 11 years and this is what I look back to. So many decisions were made based on gut feelings and not backing from the Word. Other decisions were made with the pastor and other friends in mind.
I’ve questioned so many times if my conversion was even real. But I know I never trusted in those works to save me. I knew that was impossible. I knew Jesus was the only way. Before I could have even understood legalism, I knew I was a lost sinner and unable to earn salvation in my own righteousness. I knew that much.
Sadly, I did trust that standards + extra Biblical laws would make me more surrendered, Spirit filled, sanctified, holy, and mature.
That was all I knew. It often conflicted with my spirit, as I never could seem to gain any traction in spiritual growth or overcome doubt. I believe I knew something wasn’t right, but everyone told me I was growing and becoming more committed to God. The gratification from pats on the back was addicting. Anything or anyone that contradicted the narrative was to be feared. But I could tow the line. (Or at least I gave it my best.) I just kept trucking along, not becoming “weary in well doing”, and “faking it til I made it.”
Someone will read this and say I’m bitter toward former pastors or poor leaders. No. I’m really not. I’m simply broken for the girl who Jesus gloriously saved from perfectionism and then was led back into it.
And yes, I am angry/sad there are still pastors out there today who do this to sincere and willing baby Christians. Paul was pretty angry with the Judaizers of his day who did the same. He wrote that they would bear judgment, as well as wishing they’d be cut off. I first read that as him saying they need to get lost. Further study will reveal he meant to be physically “cut off.” Ahem, emasculated.
When I read that chapter in Galatians, I felt as though I had my big brother, the Apostle Paul, just hugging me and saying, “I’m sorry this happened.”
But I’m not bitter. I’m broken for those still in it. I’m broken for those who feel trapped. I’m broken for the girl I once was. I’m broken for each person I hurt. I’m broken for the time lost.
And now I look to Christ, abandoning my self effort and every work I believed was doing Him a favor. I look to His holiness and righteousness. I pray that He grows me from the inside out, not by my own works, but by His sanctifying work.
In this messy process, I unlearn the insanity and pursue the Truth. I unleash myself of the pride that says I have experience or I’ve been at this a while. (Sadly, so much of that “experience” was just – wrong. And I have to accept that.) I understand my pride and selfishness is the root of why legalism is so appealing. It can still be an issue today if I don’t keep it in check.
I pray God gets the glory. I pray I am truly hidden behind the cross and that He is magnified through every broken piece, even the very experiences which alienated me from Him. I pray that the legalistic mentality that I still carry (more on that another day) will be something that repulses me more as I draw closer to Christ.
I pray that perhaps I can be the voice to someone that I needed to hear years ago.
You know who you are – sitting in the pew and thinking, “either this isn’t right or something is really wrong with me.”
If you’re that person, I see you. God sees you. You’re not alone.
And even though they say legalism isn’t real, it is. It’s okay to talk about it as long as you need to.
I’ve had a hard time writing and really being transparent with you guys. When I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo last July, I was cranking out 1k daily. BUT it was fiction! Pieces of me were scattered into the story (which I still need to make revisions on and prep for betas), but it wasn’t my real life. It wasn’t something I was writing to encourage or lift others up. And since I’m an unashamed pantser*, so much of what I wrote was uninhibited and uncensored. That’s what this grievous editing process has been for!
The Bible says a fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards. Sometimes I fear what I share here will fall on the foolish side and be of no benefit to anyone. There are things a person ought to keep to themselves, especially in situations where emotions run high and tongues wreak havoc. We don’t have editors to clean up the mess of our words once they leave our mouths. We need to be wise in how we use them.
But I also know transparency is needed among God’s people today. We have so many who are hiding behind masks. We are afraid to be vulnerable and open; afraid to show any emotion. (We’re baptist, right?!) We don’t want people to know our struggles, because we fear judgment or disdain from others.
In the end, we suffer in silence. We straddle this gulf fixed between our secret reality and what we put on for others. I’m not even talking about hidden sin, though that definitely falls into this category. I’m talking about the fact we are a desperate, messy, and needy people.
Part of the problem is we don’t want to see the mess in others. “Bear ye one another’s burdens” is nice at the funeral home, but we gently place that one back on the mantle once that’s over. The burdens of our brethren shake up our world and disorganizes the tidy little box we’ve kept our Savior in. Sadly, we know this about one another and feel the need to suffer alone.
God knows what’s going on. Not one bit about our mess takes Him by surprise.
So while I definitely believe we should consider our words as well as the time and place we use them, I do believe it’s okay to talk. It’s okay to be real. It’s okay to stand in the grace which has made us free in spite of all of our distress and trouble.
I used to avoid praying until I thought I was good enough to talk to God. Yes, I was saved and free from the law, yet I thought my mess was too much! In turn, I wound up rarely praying. I lived a life swallowed by legalism, dwelling in an alternate reality. It wasn’t until God began to gently break me that it became too much. My life had become too messy even for my checklists and standards. I didn’t even know if I believed any of it any more. And I came boldly to the throne of grace with each question. I was honest with God, because He already knew what was in my heart. It was there I found grace in the midst of trouble.
It has been terrifying to share my story on Coffee & Grace, because who knows what people will think! I’ve been very careful in how I talk about legalism and church matters, because I’m not out to hurt or divide the body of Christ. I’m not here to deliver a scathing expose of baptist churches. I’m still a part of one! But there is no denying what God has shown and revealed to me, no matter how unpopular or scary it may be. Someone out there needs to know they aren’t the only one whose life didn’t pan out the way we thought it would. There is grace for those odd and gray areas of life.
Yes, He desires for me to be separate. He desires for me to read the Word with discernment and a willingness to submit to His will. He wants to protect me from sin. Absolutely!
But when I was hiding behind a facade of “together” and being “on” at the church house, so little of that was being put into practice. My relationship with God and service to Him was as shallow as the skirt I put on because I knew certain people would be around. It was more about pleasing me and less about pleasing Him. It was my wall of self defense, protecting myself so I could belong and feel as though I was a part of something.
I began to really experience grace when He told me I could be real.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16
Real on the bad days when I’ve yelled at my kids. Real when I’m at my wits end. Real when I’m not okay with the burdens on my heart and need to rest a while. Real when I have tough questions. Real with that anxiety which leaves me paralyzed. Real when I have to hit my knees and pray for forgiveness, standing again on the liberty to move forward. Real when I have screamed, “I want to quit!!!”
It was already there in my heart. He knew. He listened. And He scooped me into His arms and gave grace.
God was never impressed when I would pat myself on the back for checking off a list. He simply wanted me to sit at His feet; seeking Him, resting in Him, and abiding in Him. He wanted me to be honest, even if it was messy.
God is not looking for perfect Christians. He’s looking for people who are honest and genuine, wholly dedicated to pursuing His holiness in spite of their flaws. He’s looking to be magnified in our weakness.
He desires for us to be changed and transformed in His power, but we have to come to a place where we are real.
Casting every care at His feet, kneeling at the cross, humbled in the recognition of not being able to take another step without Him, and willing to turn from sin which hinders us.
Be real, friend. Take off the mask and be real. Be real when you speak to Him, be real when you examine yourself against the Word, be real in how you deal with others, be real with your love, and be real with how you live.
*pantser – a writer who loosely follows an outline or doesn’t follow one at all. They write by the seat of their pants!