RULES, REGULATIONS, AND STANDARDS?
then & now
Standards, rules, and regulations of the church are not supposed to be legislation, but are supposed to guide our conduct. They are to be like blueprints, which give instruction on how to build in order to reach a desired end. These proper standards are to help us to please God, to influence the world aright, and to not offend our fellow Christians.
There is always a danger in rules, regulations, and standards that we begin to depend on certain ones to be our source of salvation. This we call "legalism" or "Galatianism", because the people of Galatia, to which Paul wrote, had gone back to old customs, law, and rules that were unnecessary in Christianity. Paul had to reprimand them for their entanglement in rules.
Two commandments that Paul gave the Galatians are these:
1. First, he told them to stand fast in the liberty that Christ had given them, from all bondage in legalism. (Gal. 5:1, 3:10-12) (Compare Col. 2:14-17)
2. He told them not to become entangled again with the yoke of bondage to the Law.
"...be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage..."
The word "entangled" is from the Greek word, "enecho" and means "to be held or caught." We are free from Jewish rites, commandments, days, sabbaths, times, years, and any traditions or rules of religion.
Susannah Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley (two great evangelists of the 19th century), gave her definition of sin as:
"Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish for spiritual things, that - to you- is sin."
The Christians of the early church had much controversy over standards, rules, and regulations.
What to eat
(Rom. 14:2-6, 14-23; Col. 2:14-17; I Tim. 4:1-6),
With whom to eat
(Acts 11:3, I Cor. 5:9-12, II Th. 3:7-13, Jude 12),
Where to eat
(I Cor. 8:4-13, 10:15-23, 11:17-22),
Where to buy meat
(I Cor. 10:25),
What day to keep as a worship day
(Rom. 14:5-6, Gal. 4:9-11, Col. 2:14-17),
Whether to be circumcised
(Acts 15:1-24, Rom.4:11, I Cor.7:19),
Whether to keep the law of Moses
What to wear, and what customs to observe
(I Cor. 11:4-16, I Tim. 2:9-11, I Pet. 3:3-4).
In the settling of these kinds of controversies, the early church was told of a great liberty that is given in Christianity. Just as in the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were told that "of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat..." And they were given only one restriction to not eat of one certain tree.
In the same way, there is a long list of things we can do, and only as short a list as God can keep it, of what we are not to do. God wants us to not be like prisoners in bondage. He wants us to enjoy a great freedom of loving service to Him.
God gave to the church, and the church was supposed to pass on to the rest of the world, a society that shows that all of society, all races, both genders (male and female), rich and poor, laity and clergy, are all seen as equal by God. The world had never known such an equality. The church has often failed to point out these truths to the world.
Often the church has backslidden to the prejudices and bigotry of the world. This is not taught in Scripture. It is time for the church to straighten out misconceptions and heresies that have hindered its gospel proclamation. The tendency to add more rules, regulations, standards, and misconceptions to the Bible message is still flourishing in this day. God wants to correct this. He will correct this, for He is soon coming for a church that will be "without spot or wrinkle..."
Sometimes Christians, who find this true liberty given by the Lord, swing too far into this liberty to anarchy. The church should not add any rules to God's standards for us, but we are not to use this liberty for "occasion of the flesh" either. We are still bond-servants to the Lord, and are to follow His direction in every area of our lives.
I Corinthians 8:1
"knowledge puffs up, but love edifies..."
This verse refers to the knowledge that some have of their liberty, where some have put unnecessary restrictions. We are not to let knowledge puff us up in pride, and then live in liberty irregardless of those who are ignorant of such liberty. Some Christians who have added unnecessary rules to their lives must be handled gently. Often, they are the ones who unmercifully attack we who live in the liberty of Christ, but we still must remember to lovingly address their judgmentalism, legalism, and weakness.
The tendency to abuse the new found liberty can lead to lasciviousness.
"Lasciviousness" comes from the Greek word "aselgeia" This is the sin of promoting or partaking of that which tends to produce lewd emotions, or the tendency to do anything which fosters sin and lust." We must therefore restrict ourselves from anything that would make it difficult for us to stay in harmony with the Lord. This will be a different list for each Christian. So, we cannot list here what these things are. Each Christian should know their besetting sins, and anything which would bring them nearer to stumbling again into those sins, must be avoided.
There is great liberty for Christians.
I Corinthians 6:12
"All things (Paul was speaking of foods here) are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient..."
The word "expedient" is from the Greek - "sumphero". This means "profitable." Paul was stating that if he wanted to eat meats, or vegetables, whatever - he could. He could eat meat that was offered to idols if he chose and still not be sinning. Even in our day, much of Christianity is trying to tell others what to eat. In these days, the debate concerns cholesterol, fats, salt, sugar, meats, etc. God has not made any of those things to be sinful. Yet, as Paul said, not all of these are profitable.
The Lord taught us moderation in all these things. One of the signs of the last days is to be a "forbidding to eat meats" which Paul describes as a departure from the faith (I Tim. 4:3). Therefore, we should be careful how strong we get into the dietary restrictions of some Christian segments today.
The principle that Paul taught with -"not all things are expedient" - is this... we do need to self-limit our liberties. Paul continues in the next verse to add:
I Corinthians 6:13
"I will not be brought under the power of any."
We must not be brought under control of things. We are to use things and love people... not vice versa. Too many become controlled by habits and things they love. The devil tries to use Christian liberty to snare Christians to slavery to things which in themselves are not sinful. Some become slaves to possessions, careers, clubs, bowling, sports, t.v., soap operas, romance novels, etc. These things are not sinful in themselves, but if they begin to come between the Christian and their Lord, they become sinful to that person.
Some base their Christian conduct on a - "if it isn't wrong, then it is right" theory. But some things are "lawful", but not "expedient." Christian liberty involves responsibility. We need to make self-imposed (not church-imposed, or denomination-imposed) limits to our conduct. We do this by determining what is not "expedient" for us.
Some helpful questions that aid these decisions are these:
Is it a hindrance to our Christian life, even though neutral in itself?
Will it lead us closer to sin?
Is it a "weight" that pulls us down, and makes it harder
to keep our relationship with Jesus?
Does it enslave or is it habit forming?
Will it bring you under its control?
(I Cor. 6:12)
Is it harmful to the body which is the temple of God?
(I Cor. 10:19-20)
Does it glorify our Lord?
Will it weaken your testimony?
(I Cor. 10:31)
Will it detract from your love of Christ?
(I Jn. 2:15-17)
Is there a great question about it in your mind?
Until this question is answered,
it is best to avoid the doubtful thing.
(Romans 14:5, 22)
Is it a stumbling block to others?
If it will cause another to backslide or not get saved, perhaps,
for the time while near this person, the thing should be avoided.
(Romans 5:1-2, I Cor. 10:22-23)
Can you enjoy the presence of the Lord as you do it?
How does it affect you?
(II Cor. 5:15)
We are not to use our liberty for an occasion to do wrong,
but for the ability to love others and serve them.
We are to walk in the Spirit.
(Gal. 5:13-18) "...only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh..."
With how much liberty and freedom can God trust you? When a dog is allowed outside, and he immediately runs off, the owner will keep that dog on a leash. When another dog is set free, but he quickly wants back inside, and never wanders from the owner's yard, that dog is allowed more freedom. There is no need for a leash. Does God have to keep a "leash" on you?
God hates sin. We must also hate sin. We cannot hate the sinner, but God cannot fellowship with a sinner. Therefore, we must beware of sin. Too many Christians are calloused or ignorant of the damage of sin in their lives. Since we have great liberty in Christianity, we should not allow ourselves to be ignorant of the importance of wisely determining our standards and conduct.
"Him that is weak in the faith, receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things, and another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth, despise him that eateth not, and let not him which eateth not, judge him that eateth, for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. One man esteemeth one day above another, another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind."
The "which-day-to-worship" controversy was great even in the early church. Some Christians thought they should worship on the Sabbath (Saturday). Others established Sunday as the "Lord's Day" and wanted to worship on that day. Others said we should worship every day, and that all days were special. Paul said to allow every man to be "fully persuaded in his own mind".
This is the way many disputes need settled. For it is not a sin to worship on Saturday, nor is sinful to worship on Sunday. We must choose our own preference, and to try to not condemn anyone who chooses another day, or all days. To do so is unloving judgmentalism. This controversy continues today, and many Christians have fallen into the trap of condemnation.
The disagreements on standards and conduct sometimes change with the era and culture. When Christians cannot agree, some think that if all others do not agree with them, the others are not "spiritual", or are "sinful." Paul's advice is "Don't judge another man's servant!" We answer to God alone. We are not to answer to denominations, or church dogmas. We are servants of the Lord, and to Him alone do we answer. We must not judge, condemn, or faultfind other Christians with differences.
Paul didn't try to help the early Christians in Rome by giving them a long list of "do's" and "don't's". Instead, he gave them basic principles to help guide their conduct and standards. It is time for Christianity to throw out its added list of rules. It has hindered Christianity for centuries. It has cost us souls for the kingdom. It has put unnecessary burdens and condemnation on new converts. It has developed a group of Christians who are worse than the Pharisees of the early church days. It has created a hypocritical, and unloving church to which few sinners feel drawn.
Note in Romans 14:1-2 (see above), it is the one who has added extra restrictions to those given of God that Paul calls "weak." Today, it is reversed and many will call a brother "weak" if he doesn't keep the added rules or taboos. The Bible points out in Romans 14, that it is the legalist (i.e. the one who adds rules), that is the "weak" one.
It is so easy to fall into the trap of majoring in minors. It is easy to be critical and judgmental. In many congregations of the church today, the majoring in minor debates of rules and conduct is condoned. It leads to legalistic, miserable, critical, and judgmental "Christians." It is easy to judge another who dresses, acts, looks, or thinks a bit different. In reality, the condemner is the "weak" one. To not have enough love to accept some differences, to allow Christian liberty, and to share the freedom given to us by God, is far too common in the congregations of today.
Jesus doesn't really care if you worship Sunday, Saturday, Tuesday, etc. It does help to choose the same day as the congregation which you attend has chosen, so that you are not alone when you go to worship and hear the Word of God taught. Yet, since God is the Master, we really don't have a right to judge His servants. We are not their masters. The moment you criticize another for choice of worship day, or for dietary practices, etc. - you are trying to assume God's job...
We know Jesus is our Lord and Master, and we know His love and forgiveness for us. We also know that He commanded us to "love one another, as I have loved you..." (John 15:12). How then can we judge and condemn a brother? If we do condemn, we are showing that our relationship with Jesus is not as it should be.
"Let us not judge one another any more, but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother's way."
Don't allow your liberty to stumble others. This is sometimes difficult. Some stumble so easily. Jesus allowed His disciples to gather grain as they traveled on the Sabbath. Some Pharisees jumped on this as a criticism of the Lord. He had not stumbled these Pharisees. They were already stumbled by their own hypocritical judgmentalism. What Romans 14:13 refers to is to not allow our freedom to lead another to a place that to them would hinder growth or encourage lasciviousness.
"For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
This verse shows that the making of lists of rules is not what the church is to be doing. The church is to seek right standing with God, to seek the peace of a harmonious relationship with Him, and to seek the enjoyment of the Holy Spirit. Any judgmental, rule-adding congregation that refuses to forsake their straying from these primary truths should be avoided by the converts. The doctrines that teach rule adding are not from the Lord. They are the "leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees..." of which Jesus warned His disciples:
"Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees... How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? Then understood they how that He bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees."
Any rigid rule that Christians accept must be defended by the Bible in strong and clear terms. Many have gone beyond the Bible, and many have misapplied certain verses in the Bible to teach rules that are not valid. Some want all to accept their conscience as the only right one. They want to imprison others with man-made rules and standards. They teach things as "no slacks for women", "no jewelry", "no Christian rock and roll music", etc. Some converts get so imprisoned with the lists that they finally rebel. People judge us by our outward actions, and when we have the wrong standards, we invite criticism.
We need guidance to be sure we have proper standards of conduct. We need to look for a ruling in the Bible for any rule we consider.
The conscience itself is not sufficient. Conscience can fail. It works:
according to knowledge it may or may not have;
according to enlightenment it or may not have received;
according to maturity, it may or may not have reached;
and according to sensitivity, it may or may not have cultured.
Therefore the consciences of people are fallible. The Bible is needed to mold any conscience. The Bible is infallible and relevant. When the Bible is properly interpreted, and its message is securely implanted into the conscience, the conscience becomes an important part of guidance.