Recently I was reading a post from a Roman Catholic who was discussing being legalistic, and the objection from Catholic converts from Protestantism. My first thought was why on earth is he supporting legalism. After reading what he had to say I quickly realized his understanding of the word legalism, and mine was completely different. Or is it?
In the dictionary being legalistic is described as: “1. Strict, literal adherence to the law or to a particular code, as of religion or morality.” This definition I can live with. Religion in itself is not bad. Sure many Protestants give people grief about religion. The even criticize the person who has turned their ‘non conforming” church into religion and not relationship.
It seems the definition Wikipedia offers on being legalistic is much closer to what the average Protestant would understand it to be. “Legalism, in Christian theology, is a usually-pejorative term referring to an over-emphasis on discipline of conduct, or legal ideas, usually implying an allegation of misguided rigour, pride, superficiality, the neglect of mercy, and ignorance of the grace of God or emphasizing the letter of law over the spirit. Legalism is alleged against any view that obedience to law, not faith in God’s grace, is the pre-eminent principle of redemption.”
This obviously is something I am not in support of. I think we can all agree on the importance of knowing the Good Shepherd as a lamb knows his shepherd. So then what do we do with religion? It has always been my understanding of religion as a means to be drawn us closer to God. Growing up whenever someone would mention the Catholic church, Presbyterians, ect. They would always turn it to some sinister plot to separate the faithful and to get them intrenched in religion.
I never understood this notion. I still don’t understand this line of thinking. I do believe that most of the Protestant founders were misguided, but sinister? I doubt it. There is a sense of sincerity in their writings. The same goes for what I have read from Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox writers.
So am I legalistic? I guess in one sense you can say that I am. Honestly I can say I am better for it. Shifting from a Roman Catholic legal understanding of faith to an Orthodox understanding has been interesting. As a Roman Catholic sees obligation an Eastern Orthodox does not see obligation, but necessity. Eastern Orthodox are not obligated to go to church and partake in the sacraments. They need these things like the body needs food and oxygen. I heard someone once say the an Eastern Orthodox person does not read the bible. They live it.
I want my faith to be something I live. Yet I still want to know where I stand in my faith. I like defining things like sin and confession. I find comfort in Romish practices. Am I leaving this way of thinking? Yes I am. But I am not leaving the laws of the Roman Catholic Church to define my own set of laws. No sir. I am taking on something that I have no word to describe. It is the law, but more.
I no longer am obliged to be a certain way. I am that way so that I can live fully alive. Like the disciples we must leave what is familiar. What is comfortable. Step out into the unknown. To find that place of unity with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen!