Find Freedom from Legalism: A Review of Leaving Legalism by Kendra Fletcher

I attended several fairly legalistic churches when I was growing up. These were churches that preached salvation through grace alone from the pulpit, but then added a list of rules that “good Christians” should be following. Although I chafed against some of the rules that just felt as if they had no basis in Scripture- you know contemporary Christian music is of the devil!- I really didn’t struggle with it too much until I attended a very, very legalistic Christian college for one semester.

Looking back, I can clearly see the build up of my frustration with legalism. I can also identify a point at which I could easily have rejected spiritual things altogether. But, thanks to God’s grace, I met Christians who weren’t so legalistic and became a part of a community that truly did preach- and live- salvation by grace alone.

Review of Leaving Legalism by Kendra Fletcher

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{Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are entirely my own, and I was not compensated in any other way.}

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I recently had the opportunity to read Leaving Legalism by Kendra Fletcher. I had read Lost and Found, Kendra’s account of the circumstances in her family’s life that led them to leave their highly legalistic church community. In Leaving Legalism, Kendra follows this up with a look at how we get sucked in to legalism and some encouraging thoughts to help those who are struggling to leave a legalistic community come to an understanding of God’s grace for themselves and for others and to provide healing for those who have been hurt by this drastic legalism.
I’m sharing a little of my story here and sharing Kendra’s book in the hopes that you might find freedom and healing if you’ve been a part of this kind of legalistic community.

My Journey Away from Legalism

I won’t name the college I attended because I think perhaps they started off with good intentions. Many of their rules originated with the statement in Romans 12:1-2- “Therefore, I urge you brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
The problem was that somehow desiring to live like Christ became tangled up in the idea that one was a better Christian if he or she lived according to these rules. Then that spilled over into the idea that we could easily decide someone wasn’t a Christian if he or she didn’t follow these rules. And that turned all of us into judges who were constantly weighing in on someone’s “level” of Christianity as we judged her outfit, her speech, and what songs she listened to.
And the rules that we had to follow weren’t always from Scripture. Some of them were clearly based on Scriptural principles, but others weren’t. For example, the college had rules against “interracial” dating. Women were always required to wear dresses and hose. Men had to wear collared shirts, and their hair must never touch their collars. Patch the Pirate albums- popular for conservative Christian kids when I was growing up- were allowed… except for the most recent one which had music that was too close to contemporary Christian. Students were only allowed to go to certain churches in town, and there was a list of banned churches- churches that would normally be considered conservative and evangelical but which weren’t conservative enough for this college’s standards.
Even though I had come from a conservative church, had attended a conservative Christian school, and had been aware of some of the legalism that threaded its way through these communities, I was in shock when I realized the severity of the legalism that I encountered in this college. I started to live in fear of getting caught. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong, but I was sure that at any moment, something would come to light, and I would be in trouble. I didn’t care about actual spiritual growth any more, I just cared about staying off the demerits list. And, yes, this list was posted around campus each week so that everyone knew who had violated the list of rules.
The people that seemed “popular” at this college were the ones who were super spiritual. And they knew it. They looked down on the measly little rule breakers who didn’t live up to the college’s high standards. In whispered voices, they talked about this student or that one who were obviously not Christians because they were struggling to keep the rules. All of this contributed to my fear of messing up, of doing something wrong.
And then things shifted. After some discussion with my parents, it was decided that I would ride out the semester and then change colleges. So, while I still didn’t want to get in big trouble, I lost my constant fear of getting caught. And I began to see the sheer hypocrisy of these people instead. 
As the semester wore on, I began to get more and more annoyed by the rules and more willing to take chances to break them. I snuck off campus without a pass, changed into jeans, and saw an R rated movie. Yep, I was so going to hell, and just didn’t care anymore. Although I was a Christian and still wanted to develop my relationship with Christ, I was very tired of this form of religion and rule keeping.
I could easily have jumped ship entirely here. I could have very easily thrown the baby out with the bath water and decided that this whole being a Christian was a bad idea. If this was how Christians acted, I didn’t want to be associated with them. Thankfully, God in His grace had other plans.
I moved home and started going to a secular college in our hometown. I got involved with a campus ministry that provided me with a community of people who were Christians and had good relationships with Christ and who didn’t act like these hypocritical legalists that I was so tired of. In the secular college, I was put in the position of really making my faith my own. I wasn’t just a Christian because I was saved as a child and had grown up in a Christian family. I had a genuine, personal relationship with God.
Review of Leaving Legalism by Kendra Fletcher

Leaving Legalism by Kendra Fletcher

Kendra begins this book by giving a short account of how her family became involved in a very legalistic Christian community. She looks at how homeschooling played a big part in this as she and her husband wanted to be with “like-minded” people who were committed to living this lifestyle and raising their kids in the same way. She gives a brief look at some of the factors that led her family out of that community, the story she gives in much more detail in Lost and Found.

Throughout the book, Kendra looks at some of the reasons that we become sucked in to the legalistic lifestyle. One of these particularly resonated with me. In the chapter “Evangelizing a Lifestyle”, Kendra talks about how often we don’t just share Christ with people, instead we share our whole lifestyle and – either on purpose or unintentionally- give people the idea that they have to share this lifestyle to follow Christ.
After giving some of the reasons that we fall into legalism, Kendra then looks at some of the principles that will help us to break away from legalism. The chapter that spoke most to me in this section was “Resting in What He Has Done (Loving God).” So often I struggle with the need to do something. Surely it can’t be as simple as resting in the fact that God’s got this. But it is. I don’t have to constantly think about the things I need to do, the rules I need to follow to be a better Christian. Instead, I just need to trust God more, to love Him more. 
In the book’s final chapter, Kendra gives some suggestions for moving forward if you’ve been trapped in a life of legalism. She especially deals with apologizing to your children when necessary and moving forward with them. 
Throughout the book there are questions at the end of each chapter. These questions are to guide your thinking about what you just read and to encourage you to think practically about how that information can impact your life.
If you’re in a legalistic community and are struggling with it or if you’ve left a very legalistic community and aren’t sure what to do now or what you’re relationship with God really is, Kendra’s book is for you. It offers hope and a reminder of who we are in Christ. It’s a reminder of what God has done for us and a look at how you got to the place you are now and where to go from here.

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