Some Christian churches have a lot of rules for their members. Like…. A LOT. Volume upon volume of rules that no one could ever hope to follow in their entirety.
There are rules about what you should wear and what you should eat, rules about whom you should marry and at what age. There are rules about covering your hair and cutting your hair and braiding your hair and looking upon the hair of a married woman. There are rules about modern conveniences and rules about speaking up in church.
Some churches have a lot of rules.
There are other Christian churches that simply say, “We believe in God and Jesus and we strive to be loving.” And they let their membership work out, for themselves, exactly what that means.
Most fall somewhere in the middle.
I’ve noticed, though, in this age of the dawning of the modern hippie (hehehe. That’s me.), that there is a tendency for us to look down upon any organization that imposes rigid structure upon its members.
I’ve been guilty of that. Very guilty. Many times.
But I recently read something in the Bible that talks about this very situation.
When the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Romans he was addressing a unique situation. You see, Jesus was a Jew. The Jews were a pretty exclusive group. With rare exception, only those born to the faith were thought to be “worthy.” Jesus opened up a whole new world of thinking by saying that his message of God’s Love was for the Jews AND the gentiles (every body else).
The Roman church was a hodge-podge. These people came from every conceivable background and they, apparently, were getting into arguments over the details. Is it ok to eat meat? Is it ok to drink wine? Do I have to wash my hands before I eat? Do I have to cover my hair? Do I have to stop working on the Sabbath?
No one could agree on anything beyond accepting Jesus as the Messiah.
Gee. Good thing that never happens in the modern church. (sarcasm absolutely intended)
So Paul wrote to them with these wise words:
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls, and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand… He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God…. Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord…
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way… if your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love… for the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food…
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
In 2,000 years, one would hope that people would have matured a little. Sadly, it seems we are still fighting the same battles.
I purpose, since 2012 is the end of the age and all (nothing like putting random Mayan reference into Christian theology), we make this the year that we take Paul’s advice.
Do you know a Christian who is good and decent and full of love for God and humans who follows tons of rules?
Great! Praise that person for their faith and their discipline! They love God! They are doing the very best they know how to live according to the convictions of their heart in honor to be pleasing to Him.
Do you know a Christian who is good and decent and full of love for God and humans that seems to have very few boundaries?
Great! Praise that person for the freedom they have found within their faith! They love God! They are doing the very best they know how to live according to the convictions of their heart in honor to be pleasing to Him.
And if you have a certain freedom…. Let’s say you feel God made grapes, so it’s perfectly fine to enjoy a glass of wine…. That’s wonderful. But when you are hosting dinner for someone who struggles with keeping their drink moderate, perhaps you should serve sparkling juice instead.
It is not your job to take a person from where they are and push them into the place you want them to be. If you both accept Jesus as Messiah, the rest is just details. Perhaps it’s fun or interesting to discuss and debate. If we never talked about these things, we would never be challenged to grow. But be careful not to be hurtful or judgmental in your discussions.
It IS your job to love. Always. Unconditionally. Everyone. At all times. Exactly where they are.
Remember, when asked what the greatest of all the commandments (read: rules) was, Jesus himself answered,
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
Pray and know God’s will for you. Be confident that He will speak to your heart, and rest well in the knowledge that He will speak to the heart of others, as well.