I do believe in rules. In most cases, the rules and guidelines we are given as a child, the frameworks we are encouraged to live within, are meant to guide us into a successful adulthood. And in more ways than one, my country would not exist as it is today were it not for rules. People have come here for hundreds of years in attempts to escape the rules of their own countries, and we fought a revolution on this soil to overthrow rules we did not like. When that battle was won, we promptly established more rules; they just happened to suit us better.
The same thing happens in the Christian community. If you don’ t like how they do it in this church, you move on. If you can’t find a place you like, just create something new. I can’t fault anyone for church hopping in search of a community that feels like home. After all, that’s what fellowship is supposed to be about, a family of people who support you and encourage your religious growth. That can’t happen if you’re uncomfortable with the teachings of the church. And even within the same denomination, what is being taught can vary from congregation to congregation.
We’ve all been handed the same rule book, but we are free to interpret it as we choose. As we will.
And that’s the thing: as Christians, we are not truly united under a single set of beliefs. It’s no longer enough to say you’re a Christian. The follow-up question is typically some variation of, “What kind?”, because the denominations and sects and splinter groups are so numerous. The core element of Christianity is there, i.e., “I am a follower of Christ”, but what that entails can be different for every group.
Some Christian groups focus more on the rules than on Christ. I certainly agree that there are things we should and shouldn’t do. I don’t steal from people or murder them, but those are pretty easy for me to avoid. However, I have told countless lies, have tons of bad thoughts, and frankly, I don’t always WANT to do the right thing. Sometimes I want to do the exact opposite of the right thing!
Fortunately for me, my faith is not based on perfectly following rules. My faith is built on my relationship with Christ. Unfortunately, many Christians not only construct their religious lives around rules they cherry pick out of scripture, but they also make up rules of their own.
There is experience within my own family of falling victim to a church community that built itself around the rules of its leader rather than on Christ, and members followed that leadership with cult-like obedience. The rules he laid down were at best twisted forms of Christian doctrine. At their worst, they were not founded in Christianity at all, but rather designed to instill fear and maintain his personal power. The rules were malleable, as suited his needs. If he were caught breaking his own rules, he had justifications at the ready, but congregants who broke them were dealt with swiftly and publicly. He abandoned or reversed rules that no longer served his purposes, but despite these inconsistencies, this leader was heard and followed.
This leader’s goal was not to grow his church by bringing people to Christ. His goal was to maintain his own influence and control within that small group. He was a Christian who turned people away from Christ. Those who questioned his rules were loudly condemned and driven out. Those who stayed would not risk listening to their own doubts; they were too afraid that his version of truth was the right one.
Doubt, questions and uncertainty are as much a part of my everyday faith as trust, hope and joy. But it isn’t God I’m uncertain about, it’s the myriad voices that try to sway me to their version of the truth. It isn’t God I doubt, it’s myself, and whether I’m listening to the right voice. That’s a scary thought for me, because there are people who will interpret biblical rules in a way that suits their own needs. There Christians who don’t seem to be followers of Christ, who use the Bible to push their own agendas. Instead of drawing people into the faith, these Christians use scripture to drive others away. Though it’s difficult to drown out all those other voices, I have chosen to give sway to the voice within, the one that tells me to study the Bible, to study the life of Christ and to aspire to live by His teachings.
What Jesus taught me is that we’re all welcome. We don’t all answer His call, but we’re all invited. He did not preach hate and intolerance and judgement. A shepherd does not beat and scatter his flock. He gathers them together and protects them. He seeks to add to his flock, to see it flourish and prosper.
Christ taught that there is one rule above all others, which is to love the Lord your God. Second only to this is the rule to love your neighbor as yourself.
How can you love your neighbor if your heart is filled with hate? Where is there room for Christ if your heart is filled up with hate? Hate belongs to another, one whose wish is to deceive and confuse and shake people’s faith. One whose sole desire is to beat and scatter the flock.
It makes me heartsick to see Christians turn people away from God. I just can’t understand why a Christian would purposefully, maliciously, hatefully, and sometimes even gleefully, ostracize another and work to exclude people from the faith. How heartless to push someone away from what you believe is eternal salvation and toward what you believe to be eternal agony.
As a Christian, it’s not my job to create or enforce rules that keep people out. Likewise, it’s not my job to make people believe what I believe. I can only walk my faith, share my beliefs and welcome everyone with open arms. The rest is in another’s hands.
There isn’t a human being on earth who is qualified to be a gate-keeper for Christ. Not a single one.
Items of Interest:
Grace by Bekka (Moonlight & Sunbeams)
We Got It Wrong on a Wednesday by Tamara (a deeper story)