Are Rules Dangerous? Part 1

“Young Fundamentalists” are generally not fond of rules, especially in ministry settings. Exactly why this is the case is an interesting study in itself. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that many of them grew up in rules-heavy Christian schools in an era full of glowing idealism about what these highly-disciplined, conscientiously spiritual educational environments would produce. The inflated hopes of those days were sure to result in disappointment. And maybe the current rules angst is the result of a generalized disgust with the whole concept and all that seems connected to it. In defense of those who feel this way, it is only too easy to find examples of rules excesses and absurdities.

Whatever the reasons, young Fundamentalists are often eager to cast “man-made rules” in a negative light and to argue from Scripture that these rules are dangerous at best, and downright hostile to Christian growth at worst.

My aim here is to offer a “young Fundamentalist” perspective that differs from that of many of my peers, but one that I believe answers better to Scripture and wisdom.

Points of agreement

I count myself among those who believe any Christian ministry that seeks to grow believers must aim to develop principled and discerning servants of God. Young people (or old ones, for that matter) who merely conform to a slate of rules in order to avoid punishments have not arrived at “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13 NKJV), no matter how wise and comprehensive that slate of rules might be.

In fact, seeking to instill understanding of the reasons for rules is not aiming high enough either. Since we’re commanded to love the Lord our God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30), we’re not truly living the life unless we obey in body, intellect and affections. We are not fully obedient until we do the right thing driven by both faith and love.

But should we conclude that “man-made rules” do not contribute at all to walking in a manner worthy of our calling? Is it accurate to say that rules contribute nothing to sanctification? Should we even believe that they are—as some suggest—inherently dangerous and often hostile to growth in grace?

Argument from the nature of sin

Sin interrupts fellowship with God, dulls spiritual senses, weakens resolve, perverts affections, damages body and mind, poisons relationships and forms enslaving habits. I’m taking it for granted that I don’t need to prove that here. We’ve all seen it in our sins if we’ve been paying attention, and finding examples in Scripture is almost as easy as opening the Book at random and reading.

Given that sin does so much harm, may we not conclude that it is always better to do right than to do wrong? To put it another way, isn’t a believer who avoids a sin because of a rule-and-penalty better off than a believer who sins?

Perhaps some confusion on this point is due to binary thinking about the relationship between the inner man—the heart and mind—and outward behavior. Is it true that a believer either obeys with faith and love or sins? What if he obeys without faith and love or—as is more often the case, obeys with incomplete faith (and understanding) and less than pure love? Is this “sin”? Even if it is, is it no better than the sin the rule is intended to prevent?

I believe the dynamic between inner man and outward conduct is far from binary (all or nothing) and looks more like this:

  • Best: do right out of faith and love
  • Good: do right to avoid punishment, etc. (lacking in faith and love)
  • Bad: do right with some evil motive
  • Worst: do wrong

Many gradations are possible between these levels, and it’s debatable whether “doing right with some evil motive” is doing “right” at all, but this scale illustrates the complexity of the possibilities.

To make the idea less abstract, suppose a teen is invited to a drinking party. Scenario A: The school has strict rules against this. The teen knows if he attends and is found out, he’ll be expelled from school. He skips the party for no other reason than that. Scenario B: The school has no rule, the teen attends the party, goes on a drunken joy ride that ends in the death of several of his friends. Of course, scenario B doesn’t have to end that way, but that sequence is only too common. Even if he doesn’t drive and doesn’t hurt anyone, sin does its damage. Fellowship with God is interrupted. His desire to live for God is dulled to some degree. His conscience is, in some measure jaded. His resistance to committing the same sin again is weakened. The joy of his Christian experience is sullied. The list goes on.

So has the teen in scenario A been helped along in his journey toward Christlikeness? Absolutely. Would it have been better if he did the right thing out of faith and love without a rule? Definitely.

But this is where an important point comes into focus: the truth is, he can act out of faith and love without or with the rule. If he has the necessary faith and love, the rule is useless (1 Tim. 1:9) but harmless. If he lacks the necessary faith and love, the rule is a lifesaver, and those responsible for his care have done him a great service.

The argument from the nature of sin, then, is this: sin is so damaging that reducing it by means of rules is a genuine spiritual blessing to believers. Not sinning is always better than sinning, even when understanding is lacking and love is not the primary motivation.

Argument from the nature of holiness

Just as sin is inherently damaging and habit-forming, every act of obedience is inherently helpful and habit-forming (1 Tim. 4:8). Obedience deepens fellowship with God (1 John 1:6-7), sharpens spiritual senses, strengthens resolve, tunes affections (1 Pet. 1:22), nurtures body and mind, enhances relationships and forms liberating habits.

And let’s not undervalue good habits. Habits are simply choices we make repeatedly until they become so much a part of us they no are longer made consciously. Growth in sanctification consists largely of old habits losing out to new ones (this includes habits of intellect and affections as well as habits of body). This is the Lord’s work in us, but our obedience is required and that obedience is frequently the tool He uses to produce yet more obedience (Phil. 2:12-13).

Admittedly, it is possible to obey a rule—even in the sense of “a generalized application of Scripture” (see below)—and not obey God in the fullest sense. That is, pleasing God could be furthest thing from the complier’s mind. He is not obeying fully because his affections are not God-ward in the act. But even though he is not obeying at the subjective level, he still obeying at the objective level and making a better choice. By doing so, he is getting a taste of clean living whether he wants one or not. I believe these “tastes” are always habit forming to some degree in the life of a regenerate, Spirit-indwelt person.

The argument from the nature of holiness, then, is this: obedience is so helpful that increasing it by means of rules is a genuine spiritual blessing to believers even when their faith is incomplete and love is not their primary motivation.

Summary

I’ve argued here that rules in ministry settings (especially schools) are not as dangerous or hostile to growing in grace as many suppose. I’ve done so on the basis of the nature of sin and the nature of obedience. But the case is far from complete. It barely scratches the surface.

In Part 2, I’ll offer an additional argument—this time, from the nature of rules themselves, then address a series of objections, including these:

  • If what you’re saying about rules is true, shouldn’t we make as many as possible? (We know that leads to disaster!)
  • Doesn’t Jesus’ handling of the Pharisees show that rule-making is inherently hazardous?
  • Doesn’t Colossians directly forbid rule making (Col. 2:20-23)?
  • Doesn’t 1 Corinthians 13:3 teach that doing good without love is worthless?

(Part 2)


Aaron Blumer, SI’s site publisher, is a native of lower Michigan and a graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He, his wife, and their two children live in a small town in western Wisconsin, where he has pastored Grace Baptist Church (Boyceville, WI) since 2000. Prior to serving as a pastor, Aaron taught school in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and served in customer service and technical support for Unisys Corporation (Eagan, MN). He enjoys science fiction, music, and dabbling in software development.
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There are 114 Comments

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron Blumer wrote:
To make the idea less abstract, suppose a teen is invited to a drinking party. Scenario A: The school has strict rules against this. The teen knows if he attends and is found out, he’ll be expelled from school. He skips the party for no other reason than that. Scenario B: The school has no rule, the teen attends the party, goes on a drunken joy ride that ends in the death of several of his friends. Of course, scenario B doesn’t have to end that way, but that sequence is only too common. Even if he doesn’t drive and doesn’t hurt anyone, sin does its damage. Fellowship with God is interrupted. His desire to live for God is dulled to some degree. His conscience is, in some measure jaded. His resistance to committing the same sin again is weakened. The joy of his Christian experience is sullied. The list goes on.

I actually agree with most of this post, but when I read this example, my question became "Why would the school have this rule and that parents not?" Which is going to influence the decision making processes of the child more- his parent's input, or the rules at the school?

It isn't the presence or even the number of rules that I have concerns about, but the seeming assumption of the parents as being second in the chain of command when it comes to the role of schools and even churches. We are often asking kids to do/not do things that their parents practice on a regular basis, and on the other hand, there are behaviors and activities allowed and encouraged that some parents have objections to.

There are many clear guidelines that delineate the responsibilities of parents to children and the teaching/mentoring roles of older adult men/women to the younger adult men/women. The Bible doesn't tell older women to love and teach the younger women's children, but to teach the younger women to love their own husband and children.

If we can get these obvious methods of discipleship and edification down better, I think the 'rules' issue would become less of a point of contention.

ssutter's picture

I think that part of this is a difficult (new) problem as part of the idea of the separation of church and state. - I think that the problem with rules stems from walking the fine line between saying that a rule is part of a spiritual sanctification and it's just good government. On one hand - rules are a problem if they're mandated as part of spiritual growth. - I.e. - Given your example - spirituality isn't even discussed. But what makes rules bad is that they give those who keep them assurance of righteousness.

Obviously organizations like schools have to govern kids - so obviously we can't toss out rules.
People love to trust rule-keeping - that can be spiritually dangerous. how do we protect them from that?
Why is this a big deal? - Governments and other organizations have lots of rules without producing self-righteous hypocrites - why do schools/churches fall into this trap?

_______________
www.SutterSaga.com

ssutter's picture

Parents, or for that example umm... Government and the cops - they do have rules against teens drinking that should deter students. - I can't speak for Wisconsin, but in NY there are pretty strict laws against drunk driving that are very serious. - No one is saying that those are legalistic requirements. So, I really didn't like that example either.

_______________
www.SutterSaga.com

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Susan R wrote:
I actually agree with most of this post, but when I read this example, my question became "Why would the school have this rule and that parents not?" Which is going to influence the decision making processes of the child more- his parent's input, or the rules at the school?

These are two very different questions. The answer to the first is simply because there are alot of negligent and immature parents out there.
The answer to the second is complicated. Other things being equal, parents have more influence than schools by a long shot. But when whether the child is truly a believer is a huge factor. If he or she is, then he has been indwelt by the Spirit and a sanctifying work has begun that God will continue until the Day of Christ. So helping a regenerate kid who isn't mature enough to make the right choice and who's parent's aren't nurturing him very well avoid disaster makes a huge difference. If the child has no desire to grow in grace (which would make it hard for me to believe he's saved) the parent's more negligent attitude is more likely to win the day in his moral development and spiritually--well, dead is dead.

As for the example in general... The aim there was to make it easy to see how a rule can really help avoid the disastrous consequences of sin. It works just as well if the rule is a government one, though of course, they do not intend it to have spiritual benefits. But these benefits can occur even when not intended. Much more so when intended.

Keri L.'s picture

Has anyone read the book "Why Christian Kids Rebel" by Tim Kimmel? I'm planning to write a review of the book this week.

It is a very interesting book that deals with the subjects of parenting kids who will not rebel against their faith. Many of the principles would apply to the Christian School movement as well. I think it would be a good addition to the articles that have been on SI in the past couple of weeks about rules and schools.

While I do not agree with everything in this book I recommend it as a good read for parents and Christian school workers.

Mike Harding's picture

Thanks for a well-thought, well-written article. A society without laws would be completely uncivil, dangerous, and totally corrupt. Even in the Garden of Eden God had a rule. Christ did not come to abrogate the prinicple of law. The Law was never evil. Man is evil. Law has a restraining influence on depraved humanity, a soteriological purpose in guiding one to see his or her need of Christ, and an educational purpose in that people realize there are objective standards of right and wrong. Law, however, cannot save or inherently sanctify. Only the grace of God effectually working in the human heart can do that.

There is no inherent conflict between a parent having rules in their home and a school having rules for their students. There is no school worth its salt that does not have rules governing conduct. Those who compare the Talmud and Mishnah to a simple student handbook in a school are comparing apples and oranges, or should I say apples and watermelons to be more accurate in the analogy. If the parents are in fundamental disagreement with the rules of a particular school, they have the option of sending their children to a school with which they are in agreement. The only compulsory education is the public school monopoly which forcibly takes our money and compels our children to attend government schools. The reductionist ethic regarding rules in the public schools has not created a healthier, more civil, more moral environment in which children and teens are being educated. The morals in public colleges are near total corruption where the rule is "don't have sex in your dorm room while your other roomate is present".

The rules in our Christian colleges are much less today than they were 30, 40, 50 years ago. I think the real culprit is the autonomous idea that says, "I don't want anybody telling me what to do".

Pastor Mike Harding

Dan Miller's picture

Aaron, your argument begins with these paragraphs.

Quote:
Sin interrupts fellowship with God, dulls spiritual senses, weakens resolve, perverts affections, damages body and mind, poisons relationships and forms enslaving habits. I’m taking it for granted that I don’t need to prove that here. We’ve all seen it in our sins if we’ve been paying attention, and finding examples in Scripture is almost as easy as opening the Book at random and reading.
Given that sin does so much harm, may we not conclude that it is always better to do right than to do wrong? To put it another way, isn’t a believer who avoids a sin because of a rule-and-penalty better off than a believer who sins?
I would recommend going over this again. But instead of a consideration of "sin," do this twice. First, apply the logic to "inner sin." That is, a sin of the heart that exists independently of rules. For example, the student who doesn't touch a girl, but lusts continually.

Next, apply the logic to "external sin." That is, the breaking of rules that have been established. For example, the student who breaks a rule that prohibits all physical contact, but does so without any hint of porneia in his heart.

I think that will help. You do however, have a point. To my mind, this is all a question of how sanctification works. Just like salvation, it is entirely the work of God (monergism). And we work.

I would recommend two passages for your thesis:
Romans 6 seems to say that doing sin makes us more enslaved by death. Thus, harder in the future to resist. Obviously, there are sins that master us more than others.
Matt 19:16-24 seems to say that there are some external conditions that make it harder to be saved. I want to be careful not to contradict that God's grace is enough for anyone to repent, but Jesus is saying that people who are accustomed to wealth find it harder to follow Him.

Dan Miller's picture

Quote:
Best: do right out of faith and love
Good: do right to avoid punishment, etc. (lacking in faith and love)
Bad: do right with some evil motive
Worst: do wrong
Best: do right out of faith and love
Worthless: do right to avoid punishment, etc. (lacking in faith and love)
Bad: do right with some evil motive (but if evil is the lack of good, then doing right simply to avoid punishment is evil.)
Bad: do wrong

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
Worthless: do right to avoid punishment, etc. (lacking in faith and love)
Why? Why does the Bible use fear of punishment as a motivation to do right if such action is "worthless"? On what biblical basis do we conclude that such action is "worthless"?

Reading these discussions, and resisting the urge (until now) to comment, I think much of this discussion on rules is misguided. The fact is that the Bible makes rules. And the Bible appeals, at times, to what some would call "base motives" as reason to obey the rules. It seems to me that some are simply trying to be "more Christian than Christ" or "more biblical than the Bible" in this regard.

Yes, we should focus on the heart, but that is usually insufficient, particularly in formative years. Walls help to guide until one is sufficient strength to stand on their own.

A school exists to turn out a product. Why should they not have standards that assist them in turning out that product. Consider a manufacturer. They have certain standards because they desire to turn out a certain product. We all applaud that because when we go buy something we want to know that it is worked. And people will lose their jobs for violating those standards. But somehow, when we get to a Christian school for instance, we throw all of that (or a lot of it) out in the window under the guise of avoiding legalism. Truth is, that the process for turning out a mature believer is greatly enhanced by standards of conduct. It seems in this regard that the children of darkness are indeed more wise than the children of light.

I grew up in Christian education that most would consider legalistic and I never heard anyone suggest that keeping the rules would make one spiritual. I never heard anyone from outside my circles say that. The only people I have heard say it are people who are quoting other people. It's all secondhand. Now, perhaps there are some who think that keeping rules will make them spiritual.

But look a little deeper: Will keeping rules make one spiritual? Yes, it will. The Bible plainly teaches that avoiding certain things and doing other things will in fact have a direct affect on one's spirituality. Sure the heart is connected, but that is the nature of humanity. "Meaning well" (i.e., having the "right heart") is not sufficient. But walls help to "guard the heart." The heart is affected by our circumstances and our lives. We cannot disconnect them.

Go back to the prom rule discussion. There were many who decried that rule as legalistic. But I imagine that most of those people have no problem with a rule about being late to class. Here's the irony: No that I know of suggests that being late to class is a great temptation to compromise moral integrity, or that it will greatly damage one's testimony, or that it will put a person in a place that is not healthy for their spiritual life. The prom is clearly presents all of those possibilities. So some, in the name of biblical Christianity, are willing to regulate the less dangerous and less important and unwilling to regulate the more dangerous, more important, and more directly tied to biblical revelation. I find that odd.

As people of wisdom, we should be able to acknowledge that certain things/places/atmosphere present temptation that would be better avoided. Why encourage or permit young people to put themselves in a place of overt temptation? Will all fail? No. Will some? Sure. Again, wisdom seems to be missing here too often.

Philip's picture

I need to see how extrabiblical morality fits with 1 Tim. 4:1-5 and Col. 2:20-23.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I think comparing the home to gov't or the home to the church or gov't to the church blurs too many lines. Each has its place and purpose, and I don't believe I can apply the same principles in exactly the same way to each relationship in the life of the Christian.

If we are talking about Christian schools, I am assuming we are talking about Christian parents. If the parents do not, in fact, believe in 1) the illegality of teenage drinking 2) avoiding the abuse of alcohol- the problem is not going to be solved by applying rules and restrictions to the children. That would be a case of parents not being equipped, mentored, or held accountable to bring their children up 'in the nurture and admonition of the Lord'. You might make somewhat of a difference in the sowing/reaping aspect of a young person's life by enforcing rules that their lazy parents won't, and that's not a bad thing- but what about the long term? And aren't the future repercussions what we should be most concerned about? Sometimes rules are just a Band-Aid that temporarily hide a festering wound- they do nothing to address the infection.

I want to make it clear that it isn't having rules I am most concerned about, but the lack of emphasis on equipping and supporting parents and concentrating on kids instead, as if the parents are a lost cause, and the idea of schools enforcing rules of conduct in the home (that aren't already specifically covered by God's Word or the law of the land).

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
I need to see how extrabiblical morality fits with 1 Tim. 4:1-5 and Col. 2:20-23.
What do you mean by "extrabiblical morality"?

Paul J. Scharf's picture

A few random thoughts...

I certainly see the necessity of a school having rules on a purely "instutional level" (i.e., wearing a tie to class), and I also appreciate the value of a structured environment, where class begins on time, there is no talking during class, etc., etc. To me, all of those things are more in the category of doing things "decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:40). They apply to one's sanctification only in a secondary sense -- i.e., talking in class is not immoral, but doing things disorderly is. In other words, the rule itself drives the serious person to an inner heart issue while also accomplishing the desired end outwardly.

What I have never bought into, and what was culture shock to me when I first entered Fundamentalism, was an extra-Biblical layer of rules which sort-of relates to sanctification, sort-of relates to building a fence around God's Law, sort-of flows out of conviction -- but when push comes to shove -- can only finally be justified on an institutional level...except that somehow we still end up looking down on others who do not practice that same "standard."

I have yet to see that type of rule-making bear the fruit of holiness in anyone's life.

(I think Susan is on a similar wavelength with her concern about the school's rules interrupting the God-given relationship of parents and children.)

One of the great victories within Fundamentalism over the last decade, as I see it, is the putting away of some of these childish things.

My counsel: Once we get outside of the lowest common denonimator of necessary "instituational rules," let's focus on substantive Bible teaching. When we get "really good" at that, we can start worrying about adding rules Smile

Church Ministries Representative for the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
What I have never bought into, and what was culture shock to me when I first entered Fundamentalism, was an extra-Biblical layer of rules which sort-of relates to sanctification, sort-of relates to building a fence around God's Law, sort-of flows out of conviction -- but when push comes to shove -- can only finally be justified on an institutional level...except that somehow we still end up looking down on others who do not practice that same "standard."
As with my above comment, I have to wonder what we are talking about here. It is hard to respond without knowing what we are talking about.

Quote:
One of the great victories within Fundamentalism over the last decade, as I see it, is the putting away of some of these childish things.
That certainly has the affect of trying to win the debate by defining those who see it differently as "childish." Perhaps you don't mean such ...

Quote:
Once we get outside of the lowest common denominator of necessary "institutional rules," let's focus on substantive Bible teaching. When we get "really good" at that, we can start worrying about adding rules
I also wonder why "substantive Bible teaching" is somehow set against rules. I think that is a common underlying theme in these threads: If we have Bible teaching and discipleship, we don't need rules. I don't see that distinction in the Bible, and wonder where it comes from here.

Can you imagine Ford saying, "Let's not have rules, just make cars." Or Pfizer saying, "Let's not have rules, let's just make medicine." Or Nabisco saying, "Let's not have rules, let's just make food." I can't imagine any of that, and I imagine no one here can because they recognize that rules aid in turning out of a product. No one at Ford, Pfizer, or Nabisco would say that working on your care, whipping up a homebrew medicine, or baking cookies means you need to have the same rules as they do (though they might be helpful). But neither do they consider them "extra." They are a part of producing a product.

Joseph's picture

Like a lot of issues in popuar discussion, I think the rules discussion is of limited value, at best, because it fails to address more fundamental questions in ethics and theology.

Part of the inadequacy of the rules in Christian school is rooted in the fact that I really question whether most churches have a good understanding of what the rules in the Bible are about. Oliver O'Donovan has a superb treatment of this in "Resurrection and Moral Order."

In the context of treating the value of "quandary" situations in ethics, he notes that a "code presents the moral law 'straightforwardly" in that it "presents it as a catalogue of moral claims . . . without conveying any principle of order by which the relations among them may be understood as a moral whole" (199-200). Such codes are perfectly legitimate and necessary, as O'Donovan observes, for didactic purposes. However, they are not sufficient: "The items in a code stand to the moral law as bricks to a building. Wisdom must involve some comprehension of how the bricks are meant to be put together" (200). Crucially, O'Donovan notes that "[t ]his has an immediate bearing on how we read the Bible." It is inadequate simply to quote the numerous moral commands in Scripture. Indeed, it would be inadequate even if the Scripture recorded every possible moral prescription (ibid.). "We will read the Bible seriously only when we use it to guide our thought towards a comprehensive moral viewpoint, and not merely to articulate disconnected moral claims." As O'Donovan notes, contra objections to "totalitarian theological construction," developing such a comprehensive moral vision is our only choice if we wish to take the Scripture seriously as a guide to ethics (ibid).

Rule codes are not evil; they are helpful for specific purposes. But they often appear arbitrary because I think that, for most Christians, they are arbitrary. A "because the Bible says so" is fine for a child; just like "because my daddy told me so" is fine for a child. However, if that level of understanding persists, it will result in a wholly arbitrary conception of rules. The issue to which O'Donovan directs our attention is that moral codes, like the Ten Commandment, provide a short summary of prescriptions and proscriptions that arise out of a comprehensive conception of the moral order. An analogy would be rules for building something; no one thinks the numbered list in the instruction manual is somehow valuable in itself or arbitrary. Everyone understands that the list of instructions is based on the designer's knowledge of the order of the object, and based on that order he prescribes certain actions if one wishes to achieve harmony with that order (say, by having a working bike or bookshelf).

So, churches will necessarily if passively teach legalism if they teach rules apart from the context of the moral order from which and in which those rules derive their rationality and relatedness to each other. Rules by themselves, as O'Donovan notes, do not tell us how they are to relate each other; that assumes a moral order, just as intructions to build a bike assume one knows what a bike is.

So, in application to school, it's easy to see that if schools simply have rules, with no order in which their relations can be discerned and their rationality understood, the rules are arbitrary, and kids understand this just as well as adults. The inability for an administrator to explain a specific rule (something people from certain colleges have surely encountered) is rooted in the fact that the rule is either arbitrary or the administrator does not understand the order in which the rule is rational and the set of relations in that order within which it coheres.

A significant source of the tension in Christian school rules clearly derives from confusion in the rules and administrators' minds between the types of rules they are lumping together and the different purposes and orders to which those rules are related. So Larry, for example, cites the rule of not being late to class, but this precisely misses the point and evinces the conflation I'm talking about. Class order and student's maximal capacity to learn are two interrelated goods, both of which can be made more probable through a set of rules (although most colleges don't, because the rightly assume students know that the purpose of class is learning, that being in class is necessary for this, and that if they don't want to achieve educational ends, that's their problem). This is a straighforward, pragmatic rule predicated on achieving two interrelated goods of education: one, class order, which is subordinately related as an extrinsic good to the other, student learning, which is an internal good of education.

Now, it is a completely different matter when a school has a rule, say, about going to the prom. If the rule says this activity is wrong, it is doing so with reference to some assumed moral order and idea about the human good. But not only this, it is also dictating to the student what means are harmful for attaining the good in question (say, sanctification). Here Susan's questions become very important because it is hardly clear that a school, as an educational institution, has the right much less duty to dictate what the moral good is for a student, or to tell them authoritatively through presciptions about the moral order, and this more so if the alleged good is unique to the church, as santification is. This kind of prescription derives binding authority in my view, as a Protestant, from Scripture or natural law, and can be mediated through the authority of a parent to a dependent child.

Anything beyond goods proper to education is necessarily outside of the domain of a school qua school, and thus any rules that only derives meaning, authority, rationality, and coherence (with other rules) by reference to some extra-educational end and order yet use the school's coercive power for their implementation puts into question the prior domains of legitimate, binding authority: the parent (for dependent children) and the local church (for all professing believers). The only conceivably legitimate instance in which this kind of boundary crossing occured would be in the context of parent's schooling their children, in which case educational ends and other ends would naturally overlap, or a local church operating qua local church in an educational capacity, which would demand for consistency total co-extensiveness between the members of the school and the members of the local church.

Paul J. Scharf's picture

I believe that Joseph has made a very profound statement with the following:

"Susan's questions become very important, but it is hardly clear that a school, as an educational institution, has the right much less duty to dictate what the moral good is for a student, or to tell them authoritatively through presciptions about the moral order. This kind of prescription derives binding authority in my view, as a Protestant, from Scripture or natural law, and can be mediated through the authority of a parent to a dependent child."

This opens up numerous other avenues of discussion, including at least the following: is homeschool the best Biblical option? does a local church have any Biblical authority to operate a school? if so, under what parameters?

Larry, I did not mean to call any individual childish -- just comparing what I believe to be Biblically mature or immature ways of thinking.

Since you asked for a specific, I will use a well-known example. There was a time when Fundamentalists argued from Deut. 22:5 that women should not wear pants. All theology and hermeneutics aside, that was a ridiculous argument.

Once the folly of that line of thinking was realized, it became a "fence" issue -- the standard protected men from lust. Of course, it is hard to argue with someone who just has "a conviction" about it. (No matter that by saying as much they are professing to be the "weaker brother" of Rom. 14 and 15.)

When all of those arguments failed, we found out it was just an institutional issue all along -- done for the sake of uniformity and professionalism. (But then, to go to Susan's point, why and how did we think we could or should regulate it outside of the school setting??)

Now, we as a movement we are finally dropping some of these issues from our rader screen -- and I view that as a positive step. I do think that they clouded the minds of many people, and diverted our attention from "substantive Bible teaching." I do believe there is a real danger there.

"Can you imagine Ford saying, 'Let's not have rules, just make cars.' Or Pfizer saying, 'Let's not have rules, let's just make medicine.'"

Here you are jumping back to purely institutional rules. Both Catholic schools and Baptist schools have to have a start time to the school day. Students cannot show up at either 6 a.m. or 7 p.m., depending on their preference. This is not to be confused with the sanctification process -- and would not be in too many people's minds.

Church Ministries Representative for the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry

Mike Harding's picture

Rules, Standards, Applications sometimes have to change because the assigned meanings in different contexts have changed. The Bible forbids crossdressing. That truth does not change. However, the cultural application of that truth does differ in different cultural contexts (men wearing ear rings for example). The Deut 22:5 command is essentially restated by Paul in 1 Cor 11. Paul (me gonoito) actually makes a rule about worship attire based in part on the truth in Deut 22:5. Standards, rules, applications have to be reasonable, rational applications of exegetically, theologically based truths. The eternal truths never change, but in some cases the cultural application changes because we are living in a rapidly changing culture where the norms have in many cases been turned upside down. Throwing out morally based standards based on the fact that those standards have to be adjusted according to their cultural meaning would be an over reaction and in my estimation a wrong reaction.

Pastor Mike Harding

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
So Larry, for example, cites the rule of not being late to class, but this precisely misses the point and evinces the conflation I'm talking about. Class order and student's maximal capacity to learn are two interrelated goods, both of which can be made more probable through a set of rules (although most colleges don't, because the rightly assume students know that the purpose of class is learning, that being in class is necessary for this, and that if they don't want to achieve educational ends, that's their problem).
When I started reading your post, I thought to myself, "This is pretty good stuff. It understand the issues." And then I got to this part and chuckled because you make my point in your first half and then claim I contradict you (if I understand you correctly).

My point is that we acknowledge that rules exact for order to achieve the product, in this case, an educated student. So we acknowledge that rules are necessary and acceptable for the end of producing an educated student. If we acknowledge that part of an educated student is a morally educated student who does not learn certain things by experience and is protected from certain things by wisdom, then we recognize that other rules are indeed wise and appropriate. They should be related and springing from a larger moral order. Our goal in on time class appearance is not people in seats for the sake of people in seats. Our goal in rules about personal relationships is not simply to police personal relationships. Both have reference to a higher order, to the desired product.

Quote:
Now, it is a completely different matter when a school has a rule, say, about going to the prom. If the rule says this activity is wrong, it is doing so with reference to some assumed moral order and idea about the human good. But not only this, it is also dictating to the student what means are harmful for attaining the good in question (say, sanctification). Here Susan's questions become very important because it is hardly clear that a school, as an educational institution, has the right much less duty to dictate what the moral good is for a student, or to tell them authoritatively through presciptions about the moral order, and this more so if the alleged good is unique to the church, as santification is. This kind of prescription derives binding authority in my view, as a Protestant, from Scripture or natural law, and can be mediated through the authority of a parent to a dependent child.
Now this seems completely off base, and it removes any sense of discipleship from anyone but the parents, which is completely fallacious. A school, driven by biblical revelation, can indeed say what is helpful and harmful in attaining to a biblical education. In fact, it must do so. Your whole paragraph here approaches the idea that we can educate without morality, something that is patently absurd. It ignores the whole issue of authority. While a child is under the authority of their parents, they are also under other authorities in varying degrees. And we must recognize them before we create some huge problems.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
Larry, I did not mean to call any individual childish -- just comparing what I believe to be Biblically mature or immature ways of thinking.
I assume you didn't, but I think it is far from self-evident that your way of thinking the biblically mature way and those who differ is immature. That's not to say it isn't, but to say that it isn't self-evident.

Quote:
Since you asked for a specific, I will use a well-known example. There was a time when Fundamentalists argued from Deut. 22:5 that women should not wear pants. All theology and hermeneutics aside, that was a ridiculous argument.
I don't find this a good example because it is pretty far out of mainstream. If we are going to reach for the absurd, fine, but let's recognize that it is absurd and absurdities don't make good case studies.

Quote:
Here you are jumping back to purely institutional rules. Both Catholic schools and Baptist schools have to have a start time to the school day. Students cannot show up at either 6 a.m. or 7 p.m., depending on their preference. This is not to be confused with the sanctification process -- and would not be in too many people's minds.
I think you are too easily glossing over this. It is not merely "institutional." It deals with turning out a product. Having a food product from from e coli is not merely an institutional goal. It is a moral necessity. Having a car with a gas tank that doesn't explode is not merely an institutional goal. It is also a moral necessity. So while there are institutional rules and a larger category of moral rules, they are not easily divisible in all cases.

So I would just caution us against the simplicity that I am reading here. Perhaps I am misunderstanding, but I think there is some confusion being created because we are not being precise in our understanding of the application of Scripture and the role of an institution in creating a product.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Larry wrote:
Can you imagine Ford saying, "Let's not have rules, just make cars." Or Pfizer saying, "Let's not have rules, let's just make medicine." Or Nabisco saying, "Let's not have rules, let's just make food." I can't imagine any of that, and I imagine no one here can because they recognize that rules aid in turning out of a product. No one at Ford, Pfizer, or Nabisco would say that working on your care, whipping up a homebrew medicine, or baking cookies means you need to have the same rules as they do (though they might be helpful). But neither do they consider them "extra." They are a part of producing a product.

This is understood, and is completely applicable to an educational institution if the product desired is a person with a measured level of mastery of a set of knowledge, that also has learned some discipline and regulation of behavior. Assuming that is what a Christian school is attempting to produce, then no further teaching about the rules or about sanctification is at all necessary. If the desired product, however, is a complete secondary education of a person who desires and is prepared to serve the Lord, then a large set of rules may, in some instances be helpful to that end (if they are taught and explained well), but they not only can not produce the product, if they are abused or explained poorly, they may, in fact, help produce the opposite of the product desired. I don't think anyone here is arguing for no rules at all (certainly the Bible expresses plenty of them). However, rules that are designed to keep students "pure" through behavior modification are bound to fail in that attempt. Those rules may accomplish students "looking" good in the eyes of the world and other Christians, but I assume that is not what the intent is either. Rules can produce good medicine or good food, but because of God's standard for the heart and the inner motivations, cannot produce good Christians in the same way.

With regard to Aaron's example of the party and drunkenness, I actually find that one interesting. If it in fact prevents an accident occurring that takes someone's life, then it was a useful rule. It's even useful if it kept someone who wasn't tempted to get drunk from "falling" into that sin at a party. However, if all it did was to prevent someone from committing in actuality what they have already committed in their heart (i.e. they wanted to be at that party getting drunk, but didn't want the punishment), it had no moral effect whatsoever, only a perceived behavioral effect. This is, of course, apart from the legal implications.

This conversation really appears to me to be an examination of differing spheres of authority. I'm wondering if I should ever send my kids to a Christian school (that I know will of course have rules, most of which I will probably agree with) if that school's authority does not stem either from the local church of which I am a part, or from the group of parents that together send their kids to that school, and therefore have the direct responsibility for making those rules. When the school as an institution derives its authority only from itself (and I realize it may claim the Bible, but will have its own applications of biblical rules and principles), and then acts as the substitute moral authority for my children, is it really right for it to do so, or for me to send my kids there? This question is one of the reasons I home school. College will be another question, but is a little different because my kids will legally be adults, and will have some say what authority they are willing to put themselves under.

Edit: Looks like I was writing this as you wrote your last couple posts, and it did not take the new information into account.

Dave Barnhart

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
This is understood, and is completely applicable to an educational institution if the product desired is a person with a measured level of mastery of a set of knowledge, that also has learned some discipline and regulation of behavior. Assuming that is what a Christian school is attempting to produce, then no further teaching about the rules or about sanctification is at all necessary. If the desired product, however, is a complete secondary education of a person who desires and is prepared to serve the Lord, then a large set of rules may, in some instances be helpful to that end (if they are taught and explained well), but they not only can not produce the product, if they are abused or explained poorly, they may, in fact, help produce the opposite of the product desired.
Exactly. But if people don't explain rules or the purpose for them, that does not mean the rules are bad. But as Christians, don't we have to recognize that "well educated" does not mean only equipped with facts and skills, but also with a biblically trained moral compass.

Quote:
I don't think anyone here is arguing for no rules at all (certainly the Bible expresses plenty of them).
It seems to me that some are almost arguing that we can have rules, provided that they don't address any area of biblical morality. In other words, its okay to have a rule about being on time to class, but not about where a student may go or what kinds of events he may attend.

Quote:
Rules can produce good medicine or good food
Actually neither. Rules don't produce anything except an atmosphere or a set of boundaries within which a good product may be accomplished. My wife can good a good meal without any of the regulations of a major food producer. The food producer can produce good food without the rules, but in order to achieve a product consistently, certain rules proscribe boundaries that do not guarantee success but do make it more probably.

Quote:
... but because of God's standard for the heart and the inner motivations, cannot produce good Christians in the same way.
Again, I disagree. If a heart is bound after foolishness (in the Proverbial sense), rules can protect that heart from disaster until such a time as the foolishness is driven out. In the end, I think rules are about protection. I don't need a rule about drinking in my life. I am not tempted in the least to partake in anyway (not even cough medicine for you legalists out there :D). Other areas of my life do need rules and guidelines to guard my heart and my affections. We often need rules to protect ourselves from ourselves. It is a part of the heart standard.

If we think of rules as boundaries of protection in which a product (a mature, well-educated person) can be achieved, our attitude towards them changes.

BTW, we should put all this discussion in the context of "idols of the heart." What is going on in our heart that makes a particular rule distasteful to us? Is it legitimate? Is it merely the desire for self-autonomy? I don't think an article (or a rule) can ever adequately address that. And I think that is more important.

Thanks Dave, and all for the interaction.

Dan Miller's picture

Mike Harding wrote:
The Bible forbids crossdressing. That truth does not change. However, the cultural application of that truth does differ in different cultural contexts (men wearing ear rings for example). The Deut 22:5 command is essentially restated by Paul in 1 Cor 11. Paul (me gonoito) actually makes a rule about worship attire based in part on the truth in Deut 22:5. Standards, rules, applications have to be reasonable, rational applications of exegetically, theologically based truths. The eternal truths never change, but in some cases the cultural application changes because we are living in a rapidly changing culture...
Good point.

Let me point out that the thread title is, "Are rules dangerous?"

Pastor Harding makes the point that we should make rules. I agree. But we should still not loose sight of the dangers of them.

Dan Miller's picture

Larry wrote:
Quote:
Worthless: do right to avoid punishment, etc. (lacking in faith and love)
Why? Why does the Bible use fear of punishment as a motivation to do right if such action is "worthless"? On what biblical basis do we conclude that such action is "worthless"?
...
Larry makes a good point. On reflection, I should not have said worthless. But worthless for sanctification.
Common grace is not worthless, but it doesn't save or sanctify.

Paul J. Scharf's picture

Larry wrote: "I don't find this a good example because it is pretty far out of mainstream. If we are going to reach for the absurd, fine, but let's recognize that it is absurd and absurdities don't make good case studies."

This was in answer to my statement: "There was a time when Fundamentalists argued from Deut. 22:5 that women should not wear pants. All theology and hermeneutics aside, that was a ridiculous argument."

Perhaps I am missing something here. I do not get the part where this is absurd. It actually was woven into the fiber (excuse the pun) of the mainstream of Fundamentalism for many years -- and still is in some places.

Larry wrote: "It seems to me that some are almost arguing that we can have rules, provided that they don't address any area of biblical morality."

I would personally favor TEACHING Biblical morality -- not inventing man-made "rules" which go beyond it (in violation of 1 Cor. 4:6).

Also, I reject the notion that schools "produce a product" in the same way that Ford produces cars. That comparison is at best demeaning to the education process, and at worst mind-numbingly dangerous.

A real education prepares children to become adults ("grow up in Christ") by making mature decisions under guidance while learning how to think (learn.)

Church Ministries Representative for the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry

Josh Gelatt's picture

[Note: I have not read all the comments, so forgive me if this has been addressed ].

When reading this article I was confused by your use of the word "ministry". Obviously, the article is in favor of man-based rules in a ministry setting, yet the only clear examples given were for a Christian School environment. Therein lies the problem. It is not the aim of a church to produce an intelligent person. Nor is it our aim to produce a productive, contributing member of society. Of course, these are good things--but they lie outside the scope of our Matthew 28 mandate. Schools have the right--indeed, the necessity--to govern children with rules in order to produce responsible, disciplined, and productive adults. While right and appropriate in the sphere of education, such a concept is foreign and counterproductive to the mission of the church.

If this mindset it transferred to the Church it does so at the expense of the Gospel. In your article, you define "Good" as "doing the right thing to avoid punishment (lacking in faith and love". Yet where does Scripture define good in this manner? At most, this definition of good is moralism, not Christianity. While it may produce some benefit for society (retrains wrong behaviors), it only has negative spiritual value. Such moralism, far from leading one to God, results in tearing the person further away. It was this mindset that birthed the "Christendom" of Medieval Europe. Compare your definition of good with Paul's words in Romans 14:23 ("...whatever does not come from faith is sin"). Likewise, Hebrews 11:6 says "And without faith it is impossible to please God". Not only is such a view incompatible with the Gospel--it is antithetical to it. It is the Gospel itself that demands there are only two ways: the way of life or the way of death, the way of hope or the way of hopelessness, the way of holiness or the way of sin. Noting this clear teaching in Scripture, the Early Church document titled the Didache begins with this statement: "There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways." Yet here I sense this teaching is dismissed as "binary". Was Cain's sacrifice "good" in some sense? He did, after all, obey God by bringing a sacrifice--yet God passed over Cain's offering because it was not given with a right heart. There is nothing good about obeying God's rules without the right motive. The prodigal's older brother obeyed every command from the Father, but he never gave the Father his heart--and was ultimately just as far from the Father as the prodigal in the pig pen. Without an obedient heart, all is sin. If Scripture is clear about anything it is this.

Go ahead and add rules to a Christian School. The School is not Christ's Body nor is it His Bride. But the moment this is applied to the Church we are messing with what belongs to Christ. We are His, and only He gets to make the rules. It is a sin to take away the word of God, and it is an equal sin to add to it. By adding rules to the Church we are boldly and heretically declaring that Christ is not sufficient---and that He needs our mortal, finite wisdom to sanctify His Bride. I'm not sure about anyone else, but I am sure not going to claim that.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Larry wrote:
It seems to me that some are almost arguing that we can have rules, provided that they don't address any area of biblical morality. In other words, its okay to have a rule about being on time to class, but not about where a student may go or what kinds of events he may attend.

It's okay to have a rule about being on time, because that is directly directly related to the school's purpose and ability to function. But when it comes to where a student can go and what events they can attend, that decision rests with the parents, not the school. And the problem this creates IMO is that one can have a rule about kids going to movies, but are you going to have a rule that student's parents can't have HBO and Cinemax, or rent DVDs from Blockbuster? Maybe the school has rules about dancing, but what are you going to do when the student attends an out-of-town wedding and is caught on tape doing the Electric Slide with Aunt Lucy and Uncle Dave?

I think many 'rules' are already covered by clear Biblical principle (such as fornication and lewdness) or by the laws of the land (underage drinking), so a school repeating these rules is redundant. Parents, law enforcement and the church have first dibs when it comes to these infractions.

But then let's say that a student is arrested for a DUI. Law enforcement suspends their license and charges a fine, and the parents ground them until they are 30. The church may get involved at some point, hopefully to provide counseling for the family to address this young person's problem. Then the school suspends or expels them... why? In light of the fact that consequences have already been meted out by the appropriate authorities, how is denying this child academic instruction going to benefit the child, and how does the infraction directly affect the function of the school? "The bad apple", you might say, "spoils the bunch." But what if the child has repented as a result of the consequences already experienced? Where does the school have the Biblical authority to say "No- an arrest, fine, and parental punishment are not enough, and in order to be fair and consistent with the enforcing of our rules, we're going to pile on a two week suspension."

I do think there is a serious problem with keeping rules being perceived as a sign of spiritual maturity. How many kids that live like the Spawn of Satan on weekends win Christian Character awards at their school? I need both hands to count the ones that I've known personally. I've watched girls who've had abortions wink out tears of gratitude as they walk forward to graciously accept their trophy or certificate. Gag me with a pitchfork.

I know, I know- my lack of objectivity is leaking out onto my keyboard. http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys.php ][img ]http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys/smiley-ashamed005.gif[/img ]

IMO the school is servant to the parent. The purpose of a school is to provide academic instruction, which of course has moral implications, but the primary purpose of a school is not to build character or enforce moral conduct. I've always viewed schools and tutors as 'tools' that I use to obey the Biblical mandates directed at parents. At no time does another person or institution relieve me of that duty.

Rules that keep order and enhance an institution's function are necessary and prudent. But I am wary of rules that go beyond that into spheres of authority clearly reserved for others.

BryanBice's picture

OK, so here's an anecdote that illustrates how rules can be "dangerous."

For several years before our family moved to a large IFB ministry with a Christian school, my son played basketball in a variety of settings: his former Christian school...the YMCA...the local public school...his driveway (at the parsonage on church property, I might add). Regardless of the setting, one of the constants was he always wore basketball shorts (the almost-to-the-knee variety). At the new ministry setting where I was on staff, we lived near the church -- a biggie, big-wig one in IFB-dom. For a few weeks, he, another staff kid, and sometimes some other guys played basketball at the church's outdoor basketball court dressed as one always would normally be dressed to play basketball.

Until the pastor decreed that staff sons were not to be around the facility in shorts, not even to play basketball on the outside court--no one, in fact, was allowed to play on the outside court in shorts. They could play in the gym in shorts, but they had to wear sweat pants from home to the gym. When I asked the pastor about this rule, his response was that it was a "modesty issue." "How so?" I queried. There was a great deal of himming & hawing, but no backing down on the modesty line. "So," I observed, "it's OK for the school's basketball team to be 'immodest' before a gym packed with fans, then?" "That's different. They're in an official uniform," replied the school administrator. I tried to point out that I had to give my son some kind of reasonable explanation why all his life he was allowed to wear bball shorts, the school team could wear bball shorts, he could wear them in the gym, but he couldn't on the outside court--because outside he was immodest??? After much discussion, the powers that be finally backed down on the modesty argument, but resorted to the authoritarian approach: "It's an institutional rule. I want it in place, am not going to change, so just accept it."

My son never understood. Neither did his dad! Some of the subversive things about this are that the rule 1) created an obvious disparity between our family's standard and the institution's--we were forced to comply with an arbitrary decree imposed from the top; 2) highlighted the hypocrisy of the institution; 3) revealed a lack of sound reasoning (an official uniform mitigates against immodesty???); 4) undermined trust in the church's and school's leadership; 5) created a suspicion toward me because I dared to challenge the pastor's decree; 6) developed a cynicism--especially in my teenagers--toward any top-down mandated rule that lacked clear sense or explanation (& there were lots of them!); and 7) revealed the true heart of the institution & its leadership as being more concerned with image than anything else. As it turned out, what the pastor didn't want was the possibility of anyone driving by the church and seeing a bunch of kids in shorts playing basketball on the parking lot--thought it looked too tacky. About the same time, we saw another expression of that "heart" when it was announced from the pulpit that church members shouldn't wear shorts (and ladies shouldn't wear slacks or sleeveless tops) if there was a chance they'd run into others from the church--although if you were out of the area on vacation or something, then it'd be OK.

And we wonder why our young people are disillusioned??

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I don't think I can keep up... do appreciate all the comments. I like to see thinking going on.
@Bryan in #27... this is an example of a foolish rule. The inconsistencies are pretty obvious. What it doesn't show is that rules are inherently dangerous... only that human beings have trouble coming up with good ones. But what's often overlooked is that while rule-making does involve hazards, non-rule making has them as well.
If rule-making bends the heart towards legalism, I suggest that rule avoidance may just as strongly bend the heart toward antinomianism.

@Dan... appreciate the comments about sanctification. One's view of what rules can and cannot accomplish spiritually is indeed directly related to his view of sanctification. Had to leave that alone in this series. More than I can chew right now. I'm going to write on it "soon" though. Promised something on that to a friend months ago and I'm months late!

@Susan: I'm with you totally on the principle that parents ought to make many of a school's rules obsolete. But in the scenario where the school has a good rule and the parent doesn't, what happens if you remove the school's rule? Then you have a child with nobody watching for his soul (unless his church does it, which would also be better than the school). So my view is that the school is not preventing the parent from being a parent if they have the same rules. This was my own experience growing up. I can hardly remember many of the rules I had in high school because they just didn't matter. My parents had what would be considered extremely strict rules by today's standards. Amazingly (to hear some tell it) I still learned to think through these questions myself and arrive at my own standards even though parents, church and school all said "just don't."

I have to admit I wonder what world some of these good folks (and I do mean the "good") live in: I required absolutely no encouragement to think for myself... and so far, my kids have been only too willing to hold their own opinions as well. My son decided "Dad doesn't always know best" and voiced contrary opinions before he could form complete sentences! No lie. It is really not so easy to produce unthinking automatons! (Not that I've really tried but it's tempting some days!)

@Keri... sounds like a very interesting book. I have strong opinions on that subject. What might surprise some authors is that I knew the moment my children were born why they would rebel someday if they did. There are things a parent can contribute to that happening, but mostly it is that we are born rebels and only outgrow this by grace. But yes, there things people do that make it easier for the rebel heart to do its thing.
One of the schools I attended as a kid harped constantly about rebellion (they were reacting to the hippie movement about a decade too late). What I know now is that when they vehemently insisted we were all a bunch of rebels (in chapel) they were right... just not in the way they intended. Smile

@"external morality"... can't remember who posted about that. I do deal briefly with Col. 2 in Part 2 (shd be out on Thurs). But it's really not that hard to see. All biblical commands must be applied whenever the situation in view is not a perfect match with the biblical one. The Bible says "do no murder," but doesn't say "do not abort babies or euthanize the elderly" so we have to look at what God said and consider: how does it apply to these choices? The answer is "external morality." Of course, the process is often more complicated as we derive principles from multiple passages and then apply those. The opportunity for error grows because the interpretation process is more complex in deriving the principle, and the resulting principle is often much broader than "do no murder." Here's an e.g. from the NT "flee from idolatry." Try to apply that without any "external morality." Better yet, "be not unequally yoked with unbelievers" or "do not conform to this world." Assuming these verses are there to be obeyed, we must derive applications that are beyond what is written... we must go external. To do less is to decide up front to not walk worthy of the calling.

Anne Sokol's picture

it is really good to see other points of view!

i didn't read all the comments yet, so maybe someone mentioned these things?

aaron wrote: "In fact, seeking to instill understanding of the reasons for rules is not aiming high enough either. Since we’re commanded to love the Lord our God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30), we’re not truly living the life unless we obey in body, intellect and affections. We are not fully obedient until we do the right thing driven by both faith and love."

this logic assumes a few things. First sentence "rules." Last sentence: "the right thing."

Now you see, this is a fallacy, setting up rules to equal the universal right thing. I'm talking about moral rules, too, like movie attendance. If the rules say not to attend movies, that means it is universally wrong? That for every person, it's the right thing not to attend the movies?

Another example, something that grates on me personally, so forgive the heat emanating from this paragraph :D. Several mission boards have a rule that missionaries can't adopt children (they often make exceptions for infertile couples, so i'm not talking about that). I understand that this might be a practicality for the organization, but does this rule reflect the heart of God? Is it a godly standard? A thousand times, no! I think that it is an ungodly rule! I am amazed by it. But with your above logic, are these missionaries being obedient (to God?) by doing the right thing (not adopting) when they are motivated by faith and love. . . . ? Maybe God will judge them for not adopting; I would be afraid as a mission board of making that rule, you know?

Aaron wrote: "Just as sin is inherently damaging and habit-forming, every act of obedience is inherently helpful and habit-forming (1 Tim. 4:8). Obedience deepens fellowship with God (1 John 1:6-7), sharpens spiritual senses, strengthens resolve, tunes affections (1 Pet. 1:22), nurtures body and mind, enhances relationships and forms liberating habits."

OK, i'm reading a bunch of parenting books right now, so this is coming fresh from that. I don't think it's correct to say that every act of obedience is inherently helpful, deepens fellowship with God, etc. Why. Because some kids, when "made" to obey are internally seething with anger, revenge and bitterness. These things develop over months and years and lead to depression, violent expressions of anger, turning away from parents' faith, etc. So i don't think that's necessarily a true argument.

On the other hand, i do understand the idea of wanting to create an environment (italic "environment") where spiritual growth is encouraged. Rules seem to be the way that schools try to do that. Not the only way, but one main way. It's interesting if rules really are necessary for that. I just don't know. But could there be a better way to do that?

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
Perhaps I am missing something here. I do not get the part where this is absurd. It actually was woven into the fiber (excuse the pun) of the mainstream of Fundamentalism for many years -- and still is in some places.
First, I don't think it was ever mainstream fundamentalism and second, I don't think hardly anyone would say that now. It is clearly an absurd thing that was out of the mainstream.

Quote:
I would personally favor TEACHING Biblical morality -- not inventing man-made "rules" which go beyond it (in violation of 1 Cor. 4:6).
I do too, but I am not sure that is a valid distinction here. Again, what do we mean by "man-made rules"? Attending class on time is certainly man made. No where in Scripture is that found. But all agree that it is a good one. Not going to prom is considered by some to be man made (and legalistic) but is it? No valid case has been made that I have seen.

Quote:
Also, I reject the notion that schools "produce a product" in the same way that Ford produces cars. That comparison is at best demeaning to the education process, and at worst mind-numbingly dangerous.
So you don't think a Christian school exists to produce Christ loving disciples who are prepared for the next stage in life? Perhaps we just differ on what education is.

Quote:
A real education prepares children to become adults ("grow up in Christ") by making mature decisions under guidance while learning how to think (learn.)
Sounds like a product.

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