In my previous blog I took a pretty harsh look at the role “The Rules” can have in the context of relationships and evangelism. That role can definitely be detrimental. I’ll pick up pretty much where I left off by letting you know that I’m not saying people (at my new church) were becoming saved as a result of rule-breaking. I’m not saying that at all. The book of James addresses the ultimate purpose of rules better than anything I could say, so I’ll just quote chapter 1 verses 19-27:
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
I added that red part myself to sort of highlight what may seem to be the more “rules” oriented part of this particular Bible passage. However, I don’t think James is talking about the importance of rule-following. The real question I think a passage like this provokes is pretty near the center of the text: “Don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says.” Now at first glance that may seem like “Oh great, he’s going to give us a shit-ton of rules.” Well, the logical question is “What does God’s word say to do?” That question can only be answered by looking a little farther down that block of Bible verses at the part where it mentions “…the perfect law that sets you free.”
I Follow the Law that Says Anyone Who Argues About Technicalities Probably Doesn’t Realize How Socially Awkward That Is.
Now, I’m no expert on law (obviously) but in my experience, laws and rules don’t actually free people. You might argue that they “free” people from the consequences of breaking a law. I think you’d be absolutely correct if we were talking about laws people make up to have a functioning society. But we’re talking about a perfect law that sets people free, a law that results in God’s blessing, a law that gives our “religion” value and worth as well as being a law that gets rid of all the filth and evil in our lives. No man-made law can do anything close to that! What law could possibly result in doing that? Well, I think the answer is fairly close at hand. Check out what Romans 13:8-10 has to say about keeping the law:
Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.”These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.
Do you understand that? The requirements of “God’s law” can only be fulfilled in loving your neighbor as yourself. In a little while you’ll read more about my experience with that new church. I’ll give you a preview of that by saying I felt a lot of resentment at the beginning of my time there. What I really resented was that they knew how to love others, which basically meant all my rule-following didn’t accomplish jack shit- it never taught me anything about loving people. “The law” doesn’t do anything to help you, is what I’m getting at. It doesn’t make you more like God to follow it to the letter.
I’m So Hip I Have Difficulty Seeing Over My Own Pelvis
We become “more like God” when we love our neighbor– which fulfills the entirety of the law! Funny how that works, because that’s how Jesus fulfilled the law! In Scripture, Jesus says “I didn’t come to abolish the law. I came to fulfill it.” And then he went and proved his great love for us, while we were still sinners, by dying for us! I would even go so far as to say that when you’re focused on rules and laws you’re actually focused on sinfulness instead of sinlessness.
To focus on rules and regulations requires a fleshly, functional state of mind. You have to focus on yourself instead of other people. You might even be so worried about your own potential to commit a sin that you become over-sensitive to the actions of other people and are ready to decry them at a moments notice if it offends your weakened conscience: “Woah, you came really close to breaking a [Bible Rule] just now! Be careful!” (This whole idea also somewhat demonstrates why it’s useless to argue with someone who keeps bringing up the idea that Christians “pick and choose what rules in the Bible they’re going to follow and that’s why I don’t believe it.” You know that argument. It’s dumb. There’s “only” one rule- love your neighbor. The next time someone goes on a tangent, tell them that.)
If You’re Going to DO Something, DO Love. …wait…
If you’re going to have a conscience that is really sensitive to the breaking of rules, be sensitive to the lack of love in this world and in your church. I don’t want to hear any of that “But in my church everyone loves everyone else!” crap, either. No they don’t. If you think your church is immune, my guess would be that the relationships between people in your church aren’t very deep. It’s very easy to be satisfied with the quality of a relationship if you’re only striving for a platonic kind of sappy friendliness. Be warned- those types of relationships do not result in abundant life. They result in abundant boredom.
As Perry Noble said, when the people of a particular church are focused on the ministry done to them, guess what happens? If you said “Shit happens,” you’re right (although Perry didn’t use those exact words). This is partly the fault of the clergy-laity model a lot of churches use. People don’t think of themselves in terms of love givers. They think of themselves in terms of love receivers. And if something isn’t going right, “Someone doesn’t love me the way they should, because if they did, I’d be happier! The problem lies with someone not doing what they are paid to do, which is love me!” But there’s a flip side to that coin: when a church is more concerned with the ministry done through them instead of to them- people get served- and saved.
A List Of Things I Didn’t Do: 1. Care
At the time it was all new to me, you might think I jumped right in and got involved with my new church and was eager to get my hands dirty with some real ministry opportunities. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I absolutely, positively resented it one hundred percent. I thought “How can this be?” I was raised in a Christian home in a Christian church with lots of unspoken rules. No one smoked, drank, or cussed openly. There were many rules for social interaction. We sang hymns to the tunes droned out by an organ. To say our meetings were not exciting would be something of an understatement. Then I discovered this other church with Christians who seemed to be doing everything I was taught were huge no-no’s.
My first thought was “This is unfair!” Here I was for the past 20-odd years following all the rules and doing most everything expected of me. And I had never even hardly had a spiritual conversation with a non-Christian, much less led them to a relationship with Jesus. And this church full of upstart rule-breakers is going to do all this stuff I was taught will not lead to people being saved and people are getting saved?
A List Of Things I Started To Do: 1. Care
In my former church, I didn’t have very many close relationships. I would frequently play video games with a group of dudes. Occasionally we would speculate on spiritual topics but they didn’t often apply to us. Apart from the occasional “I wish my son would listen to more Christian music,” I didn’t know much about anyone’s life outside of church. There was one person who would recount the number of times they sat with their Bible open in the lunchroom at their workplace. Maybe most of those people actually were as godly as they made out to be. Maybe they really did read the book of Job smack in the middle of the lunchroom at work. Maybe their consciences were so weak that they could not withstand the thought of any other Christian being seen within the confines of a saloon.
That’s really all I have to say. I used to be focused on rules and regulations. I used to delight in catching other people breaking those rules because it took the focus off of me for the moment. It’s been a long road but I’m slowly coming out of that mindset. I wish those people I grew up with at church who walked away from their faith could find the vibrancy of the Christian faith- maybe for the first time. I wish they could mature and come out of the hollow shells they’ve lived in for so long. I wish they could learn how to love people. I wish that I could continue to learn how to love people. Because sharing Jesus with people who need Him is worth stepping on a few toes.