Friday, April 29, 2011

Why I Value My Legalistic Fundamentalist Upbringing

I left Independent Baptist Fundamentalism about 12 years ago.  Today I preach as often as I can against the legalism that I was exposed to when I was churched and educated within the movement.  I refuse to allow my own children to be exposed to that sort of legalism.  I would not wish fundamentalist legalism upon my worst enemy, so to speak. However, had I some magical ability to do it all again, I would not go back to change anything in my own upbringing.   The reason is that while Fundamentalism was desperately trying to make me more righteous and holy through strict applications of extrabiblical and unbiblical rules and regulations, it actually "shot itself in the foot."  Instead of making me more holy, Fundamentalism's rules revealed just how utterly incapable I am of holiness.  Through my struggle to achieve righteousness, I learned the extent of my own depravity.   

I value this because Fundamentalism unwittingly prepared me for the grace of the Gospel by beating me with the Law (or its version).    As I left Fundamentalism, I felt as if I had finally met Christ, had been truly saved, had begun swimming in grace for the first time in my life.  I now knew what it meant to live with Christ as my righteousness instead of me or others having to constantly endure either the weight of my failure or the arrogance of my success.

There are more biblical ways to learn about grace than through fundamentalist legalism.  The fact that learning about grace is its frequent result is no excuse to abuse either people or the Word of God.  But for me at least it was the Providence that gave me my own personal lessons about grace and, as the Law is a schoolmaster, eventually brought me to a more full understanding of Christ.    I would not change a thing for myself because my understanding of grace and the Gospel is profoundly influenced by my upbringing as a legalistic Fundamentalist.

It is an odd mix to preach against legalistic Fundamentalism and to be grateful for its role in my life all at once.  I think the paradox demonstrates the wisdom and sovereignty of God to use people in spite of themselves, like Cyrus was both judge and judged in the Providence of God.     


  1. Bill - How very true! Last year when I finished my annual listen through Leviticus, I found myself exlaiming, "Man! That is one impossible standard." At that very moment, I felt the Spirit of God step in and press on my heart, saying, "I know. I designed it that way so you could see what was gained when Christ fulfilled it all for you."

    Grace-filled living is a wonderful thing and is rare to non-existent in our common past.

  2. Bill.. thanks, so well said... I went to BJU also and it is refreshing to meet you, for I know many "grace understanding" Christians and I know many "still legalists" but rarely have I found one like you who has journeyed through both these worlds in the very same way that I have!

  3. so well said... this is my exact journey also!