Fundamentalism, or “legalism,” as I prefer to call it, is a difficult topic for me. I’m not even sure I’m fully qualified to offer any advice in this matter, given how little patience I have with legalists most of the time.
I think in this matter I require as much schooling as anyone else, perhaps even more than some. But I’ll give it a go.
I remember reading in 1 John chapter 3: “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer,” and find this an easy enough charge to level against Christian legalists. The truth is, though, that I am often equally guilty of this crime. I don’t like legalists and tend to forget that Jesus does. He may not approve of their methods, but he knows at heart they are still his children and loves them deeply. Rather than following the example of Jesus or his Father, I often try to project my own misgivings onto both of them. Therefore, my indictment of the “legalist horde” becomes, to me, God’s own righteous judgment against them. “Turn or burn, sinner!”
How quickly my own prejudice turns me into the very people I despise. In such cases, I’m not sure that I’m any better a representative of my Savior than the dreaded fundamentalists are. How can I amend this situation? I can’t. Not on my own. My own will is mortal, fleshly, prone to just as many failures as successes. But God can strengthen me. Jesus can show me the correct path, if I choose to let him.
Jesus can show me what my opponents look like through his eyes instead of mine. Physically, my eyes can see pretty far. But I have virtually no depth perception, I can’t really tell where I am in relation to other things. My spiritual eyes tend to be much the same. I can see pretty far sometimes, but my perspective is not the greatest. I can’t always see myself in relation to others around me. Physically, I often find light levels to be painful, even blinding. Spiritually, I tend to get blinded by my own passions, or by the light of another’s flaws. When I can’t see very well physically, I usually try to move slower so I don’t run into or off of anything I’m not supposed to. Spiritually, unfortunately, I tend to push ahead with more haste if I can’t see where I’m going. I tend to fight harder when I can’t see past the words or actions of another. I tend to meet harsh words head on with some razor edges of my own, I can go off on people like a car going over a cliff. Often doing comparable damage.
I’ve mishandled these situations enough times to know that I’m wrong while I’m ramming full speed ahead into my own folly. So what should I probably be doing instead?
Perhaps we can look again to what I do in the physical world when my eyes are in need of protection. Physically, if light is too bright and painful for me to see clearly, I put on sunglasses. This usually does the trick. How can I protect my spiritual eyes, then? Perhaps I’m in need of some Jesus glasses when I find myself in these situations. I wonder if maybe this will help me to see the people as I should, through lenses tinted with Jesus’ perspective, instead of my own naked prejudice. My legalist adversaries may be just as guilty of prejudice, but the simple fact that one group of people have thrown themselves off a bridge, doesn’t mean that I should follow suit. Perhaps I should throw them a rope out of sympathy. I can’t make them climb out of their hate, but I can at least be sure to give them the opportunity, instead of trying to crush them with my own leap of anger.