I am my own worst legalist

I am my own worst legalist.

The other day my pastor at Coast Vineyard described legalists as “anyone who will steal grace from you.”

I’ve always thought of legalists as people who impose rules and regulations, add stress and judgment to your life. I never thought of what they take away: grace.

A couple months ago a friend of mine attended an event in North Carolina called the Wild Goose Festival. The Wild Goose is a celtic metaphor for the the Holy Spirit. The organizers of the festival described themselves as “followers of Jesus creating a festival of justice, spirituality, music and the arts. The festival is rooted in the Christian tradition and therefore open to all regardless of belief, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, denomination or religious affiliation.”

That all sounded good to me. My own life has been transformed by the creative and re-creative power of the Holy Spirit, so the whole premise resonated with me. In reading about the festival I was especially moved by their acknowledgment that “the creative and open nature of our faith is perhaps our greatest asset for re-building and strengthening our relationships with each other, with our enemies, with our stories, our texts, and the earth.”

Still sounded good to me.

My friend, Colin, who attended the festival, agreed that “the vibe of many people enjoying simply being with each other and sharing their joys, sorrows, and struggles was undeniable.” (Check out more of his thoughts here)

To me, that sounds a lot like grace.

Which is why I was appalled a few weeks later when I Googled the festival and the top hits came back as articles denouncing this gathering of “neo-Gnostic fools who’ve unbuckled themselves from the Word of God and have embarked upon their Wild Goose Chase of subjective experience.” (Southern Baptist blogger Ken Silva of Apprising Ministries quoted in an article in The Christian Century).

Now, I’m no expert on theology and I shy away at political debates, and I definitely don’t want to get into a discussion about the Emergent church or anything like that, but the outcry of negativity sounded like legalism to me. A grace heist.

As my blood boiled, I was reminded of what my pastor said about legalists, “Expect opposition.” That was just the fuel I needed to villanize those awful, closed-minded Christians.

And just as I was about to condemn these condemners under the rouse of tolerance and acceptance and standing up for my creative, grace-seeking brothers and sisters, it dawned on me that I had become my own worst grace-stealing legalist.

The Bible calls us not to division but to unity. My home group Bible study just finished going through the book of Ephesians and the theme of unity came up so many times that by the end we were parroting “unity” as the catchall answer like young VBSers shouting out “Jesus!” in response to any question.

Paul’s exhortation to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received,” applies just as much to me as the Wild Goose critics. I, too, am called to “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6)

It seems we all need a good dose of the Wild Goose.


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