Within the evangelical Christian universe, few things are more damning than being labeled 'Legalistic.' The term evokes images of strict rules, ruthlessness, enforced doctrines, unforgiving judges, and worst of all —unpopularity.
When churches, schools, pastors, institutions, and communities are viewed as legalistic, they are demonized and shunned — sometimes rightfully so.
One disturbing trend I’ve noticed — especially among young believers — is to assume that everything associated with a few of legalism’s attributes: structure, requirements, consequences, and work, is legalistic — it’s not.
Christian culture, along with the spiritual leaders, churches, institutions, communities, and other entities it consists of, are supposed to make our faith stronger. But in many cases the opposite happens, and it actually causes our faith to die. In religious environments often surrounded by cynicism, hypocrisy, hurtfulness, and disappointment, it’s easy to give up on Christianity. Here’s how to prevent spiritual burnout:
1) Avoid Legalism
Historically, Christianity has always struggled with legalism, where churches often forced beliefs and practices on people with domineering power. Legalistic groups thrive on strict rules, ruthlessness, enforced doctrines, and authoritarian judgment.
Various agendas — that are valued more than the loving gospel of Christ — are promoted and pushed onto people. And it wasn’t that long ago (in fact, it still exists) that American believers were expected to be anti-gay, conservative, pro-choice, anti-evolution fundamentalists.
If fear, condemnation, and shame are used as spiritual weapons to gain power, influence, and control — run!
The first Christmas after my daughter was born, I got a two-year membership to 24 Hour Fitness as a gift. Included in the membership was one personal training session.
My trainer bristled with annoyance at my “fad diet” when I told him we were going Paleo for three months. Then he showed me to the elliptical machine and told me that he lost weight by drinking sugar-free Kool-Aid all day and ordering off of the light menu at Taco Bell.
Obviously, our philosophies weren’t in line. But I was still able to get some cardio, weights, and an occasional spin class in at the gym. No hard feelings. But staying motivated and committed to working out while staying home with a toddler has been hard.
That might be because I haven’t tried CrossFit.
I think CrossFit is like secular church. It offers more than weight loss or fitness. It speaks to our innate desires for community, purpose, and transformation.
Most of my friends knew evangelicalism only through the big, bellicose voices of TV preachers and religio-political activists such as Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell and James Dobson. Not surprisingly, my friends hadn't experienced an evangelicalism that sounded particularly loving, accepting or open-minded.
After eschewing the descriptor because I hadn't wanted to be associated with a faith tradition known more for harsh judgmentalism and fearmongering than the revolutionary love and freedom that Jesus taught, I began publicly referring to myself again as an evangelical. By speaking up, I hoped I might help reclaim "evangelical" for what it is supposed to mean.
At the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina last weekend, I was able to speak with Anna Clark, author of Green, American Style, president and founder of EarthPeople, a green consulting firm, and a contributor to Taking Flight: Reclaiming the Female Half of God's Image Through Advocacy and Renewal. Anna has a heart for equipping churches to make small and big changes for the sake of creation care and stewardship of the earth's resources. How can Christians do this, you ask? Read our conversation to find out.