Monday, July 21, 2014

Christianity v. religious rule-keeping

There are people who think of Christianity as a system of religious rules. That's surprising to me: Reading the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament, and Paul after him, Christianity at its foundation contains a direct challenge to the whole system of religious rule-keeping. It openly questions the value of time-honored religious traditions. It points out the risks of thinking there is something spiritual about rule-keeping. And here, I would not say that rule-keeping is seen as "nothing" -- since "nothing" could be harmless. Rule-keeping is discussed as something far worse than "nothing". In the New Testament, there is plain discussion of the problem of religious rule-keeping as a temptation to pride, an excuse for cruelty, a "respectable " mask for the self-righteous, an occasion for arrogance. It shows how rule-keeping can blind us to the human need for mercy. And that last may be the worst of all: as Christians, we are asked to be the face and voice of mercy in this world.

What about the Ten Commandments, "Thou shalt not murder" and "Thou shalt not commit adultery" and all that? Well, nobody who is determined to be the face and voice of mercy in the world is going to murder someone or sneak around with their wife or husband. That's a lot different from thinking you get brownie points for not being a murderer or a homewrecker. "The rules" are there to safeguard and protect a good life. The more we want to make things good for people all around us, the less we need to be told not to steal their things or lie about them behind their backs -- and the less we think we deserve some sort of special recognition merely for not being evil.

Once we have grasped the law of mercy, the wisdom of kindness, then we'll recognize those "rules" as tools meant to implement that kindness. Beware if you hear of someone telling you to keep the rules for the sake of your own perfection. Keep them for the sake of your neighbor.


Giving it to god said...

I really like this post, I'm currently attending a church heavily steeped in man-made rules. (I am actually worried, that the apostolic christian church looks down upon people that are married and wear wedding rings so much that they don't love them, I mentioned to the pastors of my church that they want to save the 80% of people in the usa that do wear wedding rings right? and not sure they do........the looks on their faces weren't some "good sign" in my estimation.. and that's terrifying to me) We should love our neighbor, love one another, your completely right in this here blog post. Mark 12:31 "And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these." my church has worried me a slew lately, I'm not sure they aren't demon possessed a lot. THEY NEED PRAYER!

Martin LaBar said...

There's one good rule, much like the one mentioned by the previous commenter: Matthew 7:12 Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them; for this is the law and the prophets. (World English Bible, public domain)

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi "Giving it": I've never actually heard of any Christian church looking down on people who are married and wear wedding rings. Are you serious?


Hi Martin

The question I'm raising here is not whether any given rule is good, but whether "rule-keeping" is a good motivation.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF