Homeschooling and Legalism Part 1
Homeschoolers today possess a diverse range of educational philosophies, religious beliefs, and motivations for homeschooling. Nevertheless, the homeschooling movement grew in the 1980s and 1990s largely as a result of underlying ideas that had their roots in Christian legalism. Many homeschoolers are not aware of how pervasive (and dangerous) that legalistic thinking was, or continues to be in many circles today. Having lived (too many) years as a homeschooler in a legalistic system, I know firsthand how damaging it can be to your spiritual health, emotional well-being, and relationships. This series will attempt to define legalism, expose its flaws, present an alternative foundation for homeschooling, and give hope and truth to those who may find themselves living under the yoke of legalism.
What is Legalism?
According to www.dictionary.com, legalism is defined as:
- strict adherence, or the principle of strict adherence, to law or prescription, especially to the letter rather than the spirit.
- the doctrine that salvation is gained through good works.
- the judging of conduct in terms of adherence to precise laws.
Legalism, for the purpose of this article, will be defined as any system of law or rules that encourages the judging of one’s righteousness (value, lovability), or that of another person, based on their adherence to that particular set of rules. While my experience was in a Christian legalistic system, legalism is present in many other religions/cultural expressions. In Islam, for example, legalism is expressed in the fervent desire to live by Sharia law and impose it on others. In Judaism, it is expressed in Orthodox Judaism, where the Torah is strictly observed as interpreted by the Talmud. Legalism is also prevalent in our secular culture today, where people are bullied and judged according to their adherence (or lack of it) to veganism, feminism, environmentalism, allopathic/alternative medicine practices, or social liberalism. How many of us are made to feel guilty and unrighteous, for example, because we dare to eat meat? According to many vegans, any consumption of animal products or farming of animals is morally unacceptable. They would look down on carnivores as being morally inferior, and will be zealous in trying to convince others of the moral superiority of not eating meat. I’m not saying all vegans are legalists. There are numerous motivations behind the practice. But this is one example of a non-religious philosophy that can be legalistic in its approach.
Legalism, whatever form it takes, basically says “if I strive to live up to these laws, I will be more acceptable/righteous/lovable/blessed than those who don’t adhere to these laws”. Legalism is an attempt to earn approval or righteousness in the eyes of God or others. We all have a God-given need for love, acceptance, and significance. As a Christian, I believe that those needs can only be fully met in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. He loves us with an everlasting love; as I put my trust in Christ and his work on the cross for my salvation, I become a member of his family, accepted by God, and righteous in his sight. I have a purpose for living: to receive God’s love and grace, and share it with others through words and actions. Once I have accepted God’s gift of righteousness through Jesus and I am confident in his unconditional love and acceptance for me, I don’t need to prove anything, or strive to be something. Legalism is a false system that promises righteousness/acceptance/purpose, but cannot deliver. It is totally inadequate to meet those basic human needs that only the Lord Jesus can.
“And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.” Galatians 2:16b