Friday, October 31, 2008

What's With The Rules?

"Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence." Colossians 2:20-23

So why do we make rules? Well, as parents, we often make rules to protect our children. We have had a rule that we don't play near the road. That's an obvious rule, it makes the chance of being hit by a vehicle less. But as my children get older, and more aware, no doubt that rule will fade away. Right now we have a house rule that Zander is not allowed to use scissors unsupervised. After cutting hair and other things he shouldn't, this became a necessary rule to have, and the scissors need to be asked for right now. As he gets older though, and understands more, this rule will fade away, and he'll have free access to the scissors. I'm not going to tell a teenage boy that he can't have a pair of scissors because he cut hair when he was four- that doesn't make any sense!

In the same way, many of the rules that we hear within the context of the church, or even in the Bible can apply. Let's take pork for a great example. In the Old Testament, God told the Israelites that pigs were unclean and unfit for eating. Why was this? Pork is fantastically delicious! This is very easy to understand, as pork does not last long out of refrigeration. There was no knowledge of keeping meat cold to prevent disease and bacteria, and I imagine that most meat, when butchered, was consumed over the course of several days, and then the remainder dried into leathers and jerky types of meats. Beef and lamb and mutton do that quite well. Not so much pork. Leave pork unrefrigerated for even a short amount of time, and it's very susceptible to listeria and other infections diseases. God was keeping his children healthy by forbidding pork. Now we have the means to refrigerate, cure, and properly prepare pork, so do we still follow the rule of no pork? No, we don't. (Yes, I know, there are cultures who still observe this), but this is not my point.

The point is that rules are in place for a time, for a season, to prevent hurt, disaster, or destruction. Many of the rules in the Bible are timeless, but many of the Old Testament rules fell away when Jesus died for us and created a new world. I grew up in a church that had rules- things that were supposed to be forbidden of its members. Many of these make perfect sense, I like to always think of the rule of no card playing as an example. No card playing? Really? This rule, no doubt, was formulated during a time when card playing equaled gambling. People lost money, many times money that they couldn't afford to lose. This particular rule always intrigued me, because I always equated card playing and game playing with good times and parties and family. And in fact, now, it's rare to go to a party or get-together and not see some form of card playing going on. It's not the tool of the devil- in fact, I've seen it as quite the opposite, as I've seen the act of card-playing as a great tool of fellowship. People who know nothing about each other can sit down to a game of cards and strike up conversation- it brings people together. There may have been a season where card-playing was detrimental, but now I see it as quite the opposite.

One of the things that Andy and I discussed a lot when we were talking about looking for a new church were the "rules" the church stood by. We didn't want any. And here's why. When you're so focused on the rules, on following the rules yourself, you're bound to mess up. If there is a no dancing rule, and you go to a wedding reception, what happens? You start by declining to dance, but before you know it, a little niece or nephew takes your hand and asks you to please dance with them. What do you do? You dance of course, but then later, on Sunday at church, you are distracted from your worship because you broke the rules. You danced when you shouldn't have- and shame on you! Instead, our focus should be on God and worshipping Him- and we can't because we're distracted. And then, there's also the subject of those around us. What about that little lady in the back row who was also at the wedding and saw you dance? Or what about that couple you've been witnessing to- now he's all sorts of confused.

The rules, and the regulations simply serve as a distraction. It's time to just focus. It's time to look to God for the answers, instead of opening up our Bible and interpreting for ourselves what others should do. If you open up your Bible, and see that it tells you to stop drinking- then stop drinking. But don't assume that the same passage means your neighbor needs to stop drinking as well. The focus in our churches should be on God- not on whether or not the guy next to us was out gambling last night. Imagine what the church as a whole would be like if we all just stopped arguing about what we think the rules should be and focus on worship? I honestly think that God doesn't care if a woman is wearing a skirt or a pair of jeans. He is concerned with the heart- he wants to see what's on the inside, and if that woman is worshipping and praising him with all she's got, the outside doesn't so much matter. I think the keeping up with the Joneses syndrome has gotten into our churches, and we work so hard to maintain an image, instead of just letting the love of God be our image. It's time to let that be what we're working towards. Not following the rules, not making the rules, and especially not judging others for not following the rules the way we see it. God loves you and me, and just wants our hearts- not our rules.

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