I read a book in high school about legalism in the church today and it opened my eyes to observe things more closely. Having grown up (from age 5) in the same school and the same church (they weren't officially inked, but we had many teachers from the school as members of the church) I had often blindly accepted the rules as simply what was and just gone on my way. (I wasn't much of a rebel or much of a questioner at the time.)
Before reading this book and seeing the examples of the legalism is described, I had a vague idea of what legalism was. I never would have defined my church as legalistic, and didn't think of my school that way (though looking back, I got the same discipline - an hour's worth of detention - for wearing pink socks with my uniform as I did for the one time I skipped class and I have to ponder that a bit...) but then, after reading it, I began to question a few things. (Seriously, does anyone - God or the neighbors or whatever - care what color my socks are?)
A couple of years ago, my husband and I had a falling out with the leadership of the church we were attending. It was the same church I had grown up in, though there had been a major split during my senior year of high school and the church was under almost completely new leadership by that point, so a lot of things were very different. We left the church and tried to find one that we were happier with. We attended an ultra-modern/contemporary church for about a year and we liked it okay, but had trouble plugging in (we attended regularly, but it was very hard to get involved in smaller things and the small groups they used in lieu of Sunday School classes for the adults just didn't seem to be happening for us) and when they preached a 4-week series on the good stewardship of your financial choices and spent thousands of dollars on decorations and signage (for the sanctuary only - not outside advertisement) to keep up the contemporary look to their "stage" that was only based on this message and they would likely be thrown away or into storage - we decided that this church wasn't one we felt comfortable in.
We ended up at the church we've been at for the last couple of years. We were very familiar with the church in our younger years - many of our classmates and teachers from our school had been active members there - but we really wanted a group or class that fit our place in life at that time. We like it - we're in with a bunch of couples, mostly, it's a young church, though steeped in tradition, so pretty much classic in a lot of ways. It works for us.
But the legalism!
At a women's group I attended recently, we got on the subject of reaching out to those who weren't exactly like us. The example came up (and kept being used) of what our reaction would be if I stripper came in and asked to join us. And the more I thought about it, the more I rolled my eyes. Because - how would we know? I doubt she would walk in wearing a skanky costume or a t-shirt that exclaimed "I dance naked for men for money." So how would we know and why should we care what she does for a living if she wants to hear the message of Christ? If she's seeking the truth, shouldn't we embrace her with open arms, regardless? Do we have to give her a survey to find out if we're comfortable sitting next to her in Sunday School? (granted, that was the point of the discussion, but I still felt that this group of women was being a little judgmental and prone to stereotypes in this context)
This isn't the only example, but it's the most obvious one of late. It makes me wonder if there is such a thing as the "right" church out there, or if, like with people, you have to weigh the pros and cons...
* Anybody recognize this movie quote? :)