Are Rules Dangerous? Part 2

Read Part 1

“Rules were meant to be broken,” an old adage goes. Christians tend to have a different attitude, but we recognize a kernel of truth in the folk wisdom. Rules are just so often wrong-headed, excessive, or motivated by foolish fears or lust for power. Sometimes they get in the way of the very things they are intended to accomplish.

Christian ministries can have too many rules and develop a cold, offense-focused culture. They can also err by according some rules a spiritual significance and power they don’t possess. These problems require that we give serious thought to what rules we have and what they are really accomplishing. But we should not overreact to the excesses and errors, criticize rules systems too broadly and blame them for problems that have other causes.

In Part 1 of this series, I presented two arguments for valuing rules more than most young Fundamentalists are inclined to. Here, I offer a third argument, then respond to some objections.

Argument from the nature of rules

A common complaint against rules systems is that they are prone to become what the Pharisees loved and Jesus condemned in Matthew 23 and Mark 7. The Pharisees had a habit of binding “heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay[ing] them on men’s shoulders” (Matt. 23:4). In addition, they were guilty of “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:7).

These “commandments of men” were often fences: man-made rules added to torah in order to avoid violations of torah. Though the fence rules were not from God, the Pharisees routinely vested them with all the authority and seriousness of those God had revealed. They even went so far as to use their man-made rules as reasons to disobey God’s rules (Mark 7:8-13).

A side-by-side comparison seems to suggest that rules-heavy Fundamentalist ministries often do the same thing: erect fences and either officially, or by neglecting important teaching, encourage people to believe these commandments of men are equal to doctrine from God. I do not dispute that this happens. But this offense of the Pharisees is not as easy to commit as it may seem. This is true for several reasons.

Differences

First, the Pharisees were far from God and not truly interested in living holy lives (more on this later). Though often unsuccessful, Fundamentalist rule makers almost always hope to produce behavior that honors God.

Second, in my experience, constituents of rules-heavy institutions are not all that likely to see the rules as “doctrines of God” unless someone presents them as such (and even then it’s a hard sell). Believers are usually well aware that many of the rules reflect the consciences of those who are in charge in matters where Scripture is not entirely clear. In our highly individualistic age, most Christians are more than willing to question whether these rules are truly biblical.

And even with these rules in place believers are free to think matters through and arrive at their own beliefs. Today’s rule makers are Pharisee-like when they equate their rules with God’s revelation, but they are not committing this offense by simply saying “these are the rules” and leaving it at that.

Third, it’s significant that Jesus never actually faulted the Pharisees for making rules. Rather, when speaking of their rules, He faulted them for the hypocrisy of laying them on others when they had no intention of obeying them themselves (Matt. 23:4) and for the outrage of using their rules to subvert the commandments of God (Mark 7:8-13).

Fourth, we are all called to apply Scripture in ways that extend beyond what is directly revealed. Hebrews 5:13-14 calls us to develop discernment regarding the use of Scripture. Why would we need these skills unless God expects us to go beyond what He has directly commanded or prohibited and apply principles to other choices we face?

As we do that, we declare things to be right or wrong. We form rules. Since Romans 13:14 commands us not to set ourselves up for failure, a certain amount of fence making is also commanded. So “man-made rules” are essential—not only those we impose on ourselves by application, but also those imposed by leaders who watch for our souls (Heb. 13:17).

To summarize, the argument from the nature of rules is that the motivations and results of rule-making match the error of the Pharisees—and fall under Jesus’ condemnation—only when certain other errors are made. Rules themselves are not the problem and are, in fact, integral to biblical living.

Objections

Part 1 argued that the nature of sin and holiness are such that rules are often a real help in Christian living. Sin is so damaging, and obedience so helpful (to believers), that avoiding the former and choosing the latter always contributes to a believer’s growth. Though a discipler’s aim should always be obedience with faith and love, avoiding sin and doing right are always better than the alternative, even when faith and love are incomplete.

But this idea does raise questions. For one, if rules can help believers avoid sin and choose obedience, why not make as many of them as possible? Part of the answer is that a rule can fail in many ways and a limited number of them can actually accomplish their intended purpose. If a rule is the result of misunderstood or incorrectly applied Scripture, it fails. If a rule is an overreaching of authority, it may succeed in preventing the targeted sin yet do more harm than good in other ways.

Rule-making does carry risks, but not making rules poses many dangers as well. The attitude that “rules are dangerous and individual freedom is healthy” is naive.

Love

Another objection asserts that doing right is useless if not motivated by love, and rules often replace love with self-interest (avoiding punishment). “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor…and have not love, it profits me nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3). The point of this passage is clearly that love is of supreme importance in Christian living. But taking the passage to mean “if I lack love what I do has zero value” requires a selectively literal reading. That is, if we take “profits me nothing” literally, we must also take “have not love” literally. The result is “zero love, zero value.” And when does a believer act with no love for the Lord at all? More likely, the poetic cadences of the passage indicate that we should not read it so literally. The apostle is not teaching that if love is lacking we might as well go ahead and do wrong.

“Touch not, taste not, handle not”

Some who object to a more positive view of rules point to Colossians 2:20-23. But the context is critical to understanding Paul’s point. Colossians was written to combat a growing proto-gnosticism that spread erroneous ideas about the nature of Christ as well as the nature of body and spirit. Asceticism played a key role in this philosophy and appears in v.23 (“neglect of the body”). Paul’s point was that those who have been buried and raised in Christ do not attempt to achieve their own righteousness by punishing their bodies. To the degree modern leaders adopt this way of thinking, they too become the targets of Paul’s rebuke. But rule making does not encourage gnostic thinking any more than rule un-making encourages antinomian thinking.

The error of the Pharisees

The most popular objection to a more positive view of rules centers on the Pharisees. The idea is that the frequency and intensity of criticism of the Pharisees in the Gospels indicates that believers are extremely vulnerable to the problem of “legalism” and that rule making tends to feed this error. But a close look at Jesus’ rebukes of the Pharisees suggests the Pharisees had deeper and more serious problem.

Jesus unmasks the Pharisees most thoroughly in Matthew 23. He reveals that the they imposed rules on others they themselves had no intention of obeying (Matt. 23:4) and that they were in love with the praise of men (Matt. 23:6-7). They tried to look good in public while committing “extortion and self-indulgence” (Matt. 23:25) and “devour[ing] widows houses” (Matt. 23:14) behind the scenes. But their greatest error was aggressive unbelief. They refused to enter the kingdom of heaven and sought to prevent others from entering as well (Matt. 23:14). Both John the Baptist and Jesus called them a “brood of vipers” (Matt. 3:7, 23:33), indicating that they were the spiritual kin of Satan himself.

A closely related error was the Pharisees’ belief in their own righteousness. They set up their own selective standards of righteousness (Matt. 23:23-24) and believed they could achieve righteousness before God by their own efforts (along with the vast majority of their countrymen, Romans 10:3). The Pharisees were self-righteous legalists not because they had strict and numerous rules, but because they were proud and unbelieving. This deep darkness of the soul drove all they did and said.

There was only one cure for the Pharisees, and there remains only one cure for Phariseeism today: the gospel. The gospel confronts us with our utter inability to achieve our own righteousness and commands that we accept instead the righteousness of God which is credited to sinners who do not deserve it in the least. The gospel is deeply and profoundly humbling, and believers who keep its truths front-of-mind do not stumble into self-righteousness or legalism under rules, no matter how numerous or strict.

Conclusion

Are rules dangerous? Given human nature, rule-making certainly poses hazards. But the same human nature indicates that not making rules is also hazardous. Leaders of Christian schools and other institutions must communicate the why’s and wherefore’s of their rules. But ultimately, what makes the difference is whether students and other constituents are reborn, adopted, Spirit-indwelt believers continually gripped by the gospel of Christ.


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 46 Comments

Josh Gelatt's picture

Aaron,

I still think your missing the point of Jesus' rebuke against the Pharisees. Scripture nowhere suggests that rules are wrong. In the home (and in the school) rules would be expected. They only become legalistic when applied to the church.

You seem to be saying "look, there is a case for rules in some settings". Well, ok. Has this ever been denied? But Scripture is crystal clear that if we add rules to Christ's church, it is an abandonment of the Gospel.

I also notice that you must appeal to nature and pragmaticism for your support. This is all well and good for "natural" domains (home, school, government). Yet the Church is ruled sola scriptura, and hence your argument falls. If you attempt to apply this argument for rules to the church, I see little difference, methodologically, with between this (which appeals to pragmaticism) and Roman Catholicism (which appeals to tradition). This was the error of Finney (pragmatic evangelism), the Seeker-sensitive movement (pragmatic leadership and program methods), etc.

I'm still not sure even if your trying to apply this argument to the local church. If not, no worries. If so, then this is a highly alarming abandonment of the gospel.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
But Scripture is crystal clear that if we add rules to Christ's church, it is an abandonment of the Gospel.
I am confused. I missed this one somewhere. Christ's church does have rules all over the NT. And breaking them without repentance leads to being disciplined out of the church in order to protect the gospel. So how can you say that adding them abandons the gospel?

Greg Long's picture

Josh Gelatt wrote:
Aaron,

I still think your missing the point of Jesus' rebuke against the Pharisees. Scripture nowhere suggests that rules are wrong. In the home (and in the school) rules would be expected. They only become legalistic when applied to the church.

You seem to be saying "look, there is a case for rules in some settings". Well, ok. Has this ever been denied? But Scripture is crystal clear that if we add rules to Christ's church, it is an abandonment of the Gospel.

I also notice that you must appeal to nature and pragmaticism for your support. This is all well and good for "natural" domains (home, school, government). Yet the Church is ruled sola scriptura, and hence your argument falls. If you attempt to apply this argument for rules to the church, I see little difference, methodologically, with between this (which appeals to pragmaticism) and Roman Catholicism (which appeals to tradition). This was the error of Finney (pragmatic evangelism), the Seeker-sensitive movement (pragmatic leadership and program methods), etc.

I'm still not sure even if your trying to apply this argument to the local church. If not, no worries. If so, then this is a highly alarming abandonment of the gospel.

Josh, doesn't your church have rules? In addition to what Larry pointed out, don't you have a church covenant and constitution/bylaws?

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Josh Gelatt's picture

Other than what is required for 501(c)3 status, I can not think of a single "rule" that we have. Our constitution/by-laws simple provide detail regarding what we believe the Bible teaches regarding membership, leadership, church discipline, etc.

Josh Gelatt's picture

Larry, you wrote: "I am confused. I missed this one somewhere. Christ's church does have rules all over the NT. And breaking them without repentance leads to being disciplined out of the church in order to protect the gospel. So how can you say that adding them abandons the gospel?"

Because JESUS was the one who gave the rules. It is one thing to follow his rules (that is the Gospel). It is another thing to add our own (that is Legalism). Are you really saying "hey, Jesus' rules are good. In fact, they are so good let's add some more".

Are you really suggesting we have the authority of Christ? How is this mindset any different from the Pharisees, or Catholics?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Josh Gelatt wrote:
Aaron,

I still think your missing the point of Jesus' rebuke against the Pharisees. Scripture nowhere suggests that rules are wrong. In the home (and in the school) rules would be expected. They only become legalistic when applied to the church.

You seem to be saying "look, there is a case for rules in some settings". Well, ok. Has this ever been denied? But Scripture is crystal clear that if we add rules to Christ's church, it is an abandonment of the Gospel.

I also notice that you must appeal to nature and pragmaticism for your support. This is all well and good for "natural" domains (home, school, government). Yet the Church is ruled sola scriptura, and hence your argument falls. If you attempt to apply this argument for rules to the church, I see little difference, methodologically, with between this (which appeals to pragmaticism) and Roman Catholicism (which appeals to tradition). This was the error of Finney (pragmatic evangelism), the Seeker-sensitive movement (pragmatic leadership and program methods), etc.

I'm still not sure even if your trying to apply this argument to the local church. If not, no worries. If so, then this is a highly alarming abandonment of the gospel.


Josh, there's no abandonment of the gospel here if you do apply it to the local church. But no, the church is not really in view in this series.
At the risk of going off topic, though, I'll say that what rules can accomplish is pretty much the same regardless of where you happen to be standing. But the focus of church life is much different than that of these other ministries (esp. schools).
It may help to define what you mean by "legalism," since everyone feels free to use their own defnintion nowadays.

I'd also like to know where you believe you see "appeal ot nature and pragmatism" in the piece. Can't really respond without a for instance.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Just want to assert again--maybe in a more visible way:

It is impossible to apply Scripture to life without going beyond what is written and deciding the rightness and wrongness of choices not specifically mentioned in Scripture.
I made a partial case for that under "argument from the nature of rules."
Much more could be said but the article had a broader purpose and was running pretty long already.

Of course, codifying those applications in the form of rules that you "enforce" on others, is an additional step and not precisely the same thing as "application." But it's doubtful that those given the responsibilities of leading a family or school or other ministry can carry that out without codifying some of the applications they believe to be vital for the well being of those under their care. Can this be overdone? Absolutely. My point is just that it is not accurate to blame rules for all the things people are fond of blaming them for and it is not accurate to say that rules cannot play an important part in spiritual growth. They can and often do.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Josh Gelatt's picture

If your not applying man-made rules to the church then there is no issue. As far as I am aware, no one really objects (on scriptural grounds) to man-made rules in homes, schools, and governments. That being the case, your series is unnecessary since few would disagree (in principle) that rule-making is OK for those spheres.

But, you are trying to assign a spiritual value to rule making. If you stayed in the sphere of civil or moralistic value then your point would be well taken. But by trying to claim a spiritual value for rule making you are usurping Christ's authority.

Where is the sufficiency of Scripture in this view?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Josh Gelatt wrote:
If your not applying man-made rules to the church then there is no issue. As far as I am aware, no one really objects (on scriptural grounds) to man-made rules in homes, schools, and governments. That being the case, your series is unnecessary since few would disagree (in principle) that rule-making is OK for those spheres.

But, you are trying to assign a spiritual value to rule making. If you stayed in the sphere of civil or moralistic value then your point would be well taken. But by trying to claim a spiritual value for rule making you are usurping Christ's authority.

Where is the sufficiency of Scripture in this view?


Josh, see post #7 on this--we were writing at the same time I think.
Where is the sufficiency of Scripture if we do not apply it to life?

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Josh Gelatt's picture

I'm not really trying to hijack this thread...

You said, "it is not accurate to say that rules cannot play an important part in spiritual growth. They can and often do. "

Where in Scripture does it say this is one of God's means to sanctify His people?
Where in Scripture is there an example of this being used to sanctify His people?

On anther note, the sufficiency of Scripture isn't given by making a rule that no one who is a member can drink alcohol (for example). It is given by teaching our people to use godly discernment in all things and resist anything that will not move them closer to the Savior (perhaps for them that is a cheeseburger). We need to stay where Scripture stays, and have no right to make scripture specific where it has intentionally stayed vague.

Thus, we are to apply Jesus' principles....not whatever man-made rules we think happened to align with those principles. Far too many Fundamentalist think of themselves as the Holy Spirit. I remember reading somewhere that somebody already has that job...

Mike Durning's picture

Dear friends,

Of course Aaron's thoughts in these articles were provoked as a response to my articles on "Legalism and the Christian School" movement. I want to apologize for not being more active in this discussion. I have been swamped. Pray for me.

I will, however, be writing a few lengthy responses in the next few days. Mostly, I want to focus on points of agreement, because I think important progress has been made in this topic since we began.

But underlying it all, there are important differences reflected in these threads on the key issue of process and means of sanctification. This requires careful thought and is worthy of some debate.

More to come.

Mike Durning

Bob Hayton's picture

I finally took the time to catch up on reading through the different legalism/rules posts around here. As I read through Mike Durning's series, I was refreshed. He hit many things head on with what I've experienced. He avoided Christian colleges, but in my experience there, the supposed wonderful products of Christian education were treated no better than kindergarteners when it came to trusting them to make reasonable decisions. So now, after enduring Christian education to its end, when you leave the Christian college, then you are magically supposed to just "get it" and be able to thrive on your own with a full-fledged discernment-capable mind. Unfortunately for many it didn't work.

Anyway, I was disappointed by Aaron's articles, especially as they seem to express a wrong view of sin and a wrong view of sanctification. It's not entirely clear and the topic is complex, but I lean toward Josh Gelatt's strong negative reaction to this. Where in Scripture do we see external obedience praised as "good"? And how is mandated "obedience" supposed to make one more likely to have internal obedience develop later? This seems to be moralism.

In the Sunday Schools I grew up in, we learned stories of the Bible as character lessons. Rules of what to do and not to do were stressed to the extreme throughout my Chrisitan school and in my youth group, camp, etc. The whole environment facilitated the growth of "goody two-shoes", of which I was chief. I was constantly praised for what I looked like, merely because I could keep many of the external rules. Meanwhile, those who couldn't keep them fell off the deep end and left church or had other bad things happen to them.

The whole aura was Christians do X. So you need to do X. Doing X keeps you "right with God". You should feel guitly for doing X or correspondingly for not doing Y. You are a big sinner! Just "grit your teeth and do it". "Just determine to do right". "Just dedicate yourself again to God." "Let Go and Let God".

Everything was about what we do or don't do. Not much was about what God did for us, and clear teaching emphasizing that. This is what is missing in much of this. The rules can become a smokescreen that teaches us (directly or by osmosis) that God loves a law-keeper. We were to strive to be really good law-keepers. And then if we did that, we would arrive as the "product" the Christian church-school was aiming at all along....

I don't think it means rules are the problem. It's the over-emphasis on them divorced from a full-orbed context of careful Gospel-teaching. It's easier to think that just as academics is a result of teaching labors + hard work by students, so also morality and Christian character can be a result of teaching labors + rules + hard work by students. Problem is academics and a God-glorifying true morality of heart are radically distinct things. The Bible's clear that the above formula doesn't result in God-glorifying true morality of heart.

Blessings in Christ,

Bob Hayton

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
Because JESUS was the one who gave the rules. It is one thing to follow his rules (that is the Gospel).
Following his rules isn't the gospel. And Scripture never says that adding rules is an abandonment of the gospel that I know of. That is why I asked you for scriptural support. I noticed you didn't give any.

Quote:
It is another thing to add our own (that is Legalism).
No it's not. Legalism is when you try to earn favor with God by doing stuff.

Quote:
Are you really saying "hey, Jesus' rules are good. In fact, they are so good let's add some more".

Are you really suggesting we have the authority of Christ? How is this mindset any different from the Pharisees, or Catholics?

No, no, and n/a.

rrobinson's picture

Quote:
These "commandments of men" were often fences: man-made rules added to torah in order to avoid violations of torah. Though the fence rules were not from God, the Pharisees routinely vested them with all the authority and seriousness of those God had revealed. They even went so far as to use their man-made rules as reasons to disobey God’s rules (Mark 7:8-13).
A side-by-side comparison seems to suggest that rules-heavy Fundamentalist ministries often do the same thing: erect fences and either officially, or by neglecting important teaching, encourage people to believe these commandments of men are equal to doctrine from God. I do not dispute that this happens. But this offense of the Pharisees is not as easy to commit as it may seem. This is true for several reasons.
Differences
First, the Pharisees were far from God and not truly interested in living holy lives (more on this later). Though often unsuccessful, Fundamentalist rule makers almost always hope to produce behavior that honors God...

I do see the effort to distinguish the actions and motivations of Pharisees and "Fundamentalist rule makers." But I am not completely sure that this offense of the Pharisees is as difficult to commit as suggested. The Pharisees made an effort to make as much as possible as quantifiable as possible. I imagine it was so they could point to the behavior thereby "produced" (a verb attributed to Fundamentalist rule makers in the above quote) and check it off as fulfilled (indeed, behavior that was no less intended by many of the Pharisees to honor God). I don't know that we can say they were not truly interested in living holy lives, only that they were interested in prescribing what a holy life consisted of so that it was achievable through their own efforts.

I believe that there is a natural tendency in the "heavy rule-making mindset" to quantify things, to have the answers all in hand; to be afraid (or too lazy?) to work something out oneself (or allow others to work it out for themselves) with fear and trembling. It's easier to have it quantified for us, and then tick all those boxes. This inevitably leads to a focus on specific behaviors themselves (and blindspots towards other behaviors). This seems to be basic math. Of course, we know that living a holy life goes beyond mere behavior. But I am still seeing a bit of ambiguity and confusion/conflation between the two: as in, why does being truly interested in living holy lives make the similar-seeming efforts to produce similarly God-honoring behavior any more holy than the efforts of the Pharisees?

I ask this because the Objections (including Love and Touch Not Sections) are the bits of the article that seem to have to do with holy living and sanctification. And yet, it seems that your point is that these are all well and good, but you still better have rules no matter what; because at the very least you can't do without the "good" behavior that rules must surely produce; that if nothing else, our goal should be to produce God-honoring works (obedience) because that in itself "always contributes to growth" -- despite the acknowledgement that God condemned the Pharisees for just that sort of thinking.

Interestingly, "the problem of legalism" is mentioned among the errors of the Pharisees but it is practically dismissed in light of "deeper and more serious problems." So I take it this legalism is more like our modern connotation, and the strict definition is not in view. I am not sure, but this could be a handy way to diminish cries of legalism toward some contemporary rule-makers.

rrobinson's picture

I am not altogether seeing how this:

Quote:
Fourth, we are all called to apply Scripture in ways that extend beyond what is directly revealed. Hebrews 5:13-14 calls us to develop discernment regarding the use of Scripture. Why would we need these skills unless God expects us to go beyond what He has directly commanded or prohibited and apply principles to other choices we face?
As we do that, we declare things to be right or wrong. We form rules. Since Romans 13:14 commands us not to set ourselves up for failure, a certain amount of fence making is also commanded. So "man-made rules" are essential—not only those we impose on ourselves by application, but also those imposed by leaders who watch for our souls (Heb. 13:17).
To summarize, the argument from the nature of rules is that the motivations and results of rule-making match the error of the Pharisees—and fall under Jesus’ condemnation—only when certain other errors are made. Rules themselves are not the problem and are, in fact, integral to biblical living.

...reconciles with the bit just before it:
Quote:
And even with these rules in place believers are free to think matters through and arrive at their own beliefs. Today’s rule makers are Pharisee-like when they equate their rules with God’s revelation, but they are not committing this offense by simply saying "these are the rules" and leaving it at that.

I am worried that "we declare things to be right or wrong. We form rules" is uncomfortably close to "equating their rules with God's revelation."

rrobinson's picture

In this bit, I am reminded of the recent open letter about interracial dating and how it was hard to get many people to question that man-made doctrine:

Quote:
Second, in my experience, constituents of rules-heavy institutions are not all that likely to see the rules as "doctrines of God" unless someone presents them as such (and even then it’s a hard sell). Believers are usually well aware that many of the rules reflect the consciences of those who are in charge in matters where Scripture is not entirely clear. In our highly individualistic age, most Christians are more than willing to question whether these rules are truly biblical.

The letter's result was encouraging. Finally, in this terrible day and age of questions. Still, I am confused. It sounds like it is okay to go ahead and create some rule and then present it in a context in which the questioning of the rule is discouraged (in fact, questioning the rule is prohibited by a further rule); and yet it somehow all works out because surely someone will question it anyway, someday. In fact, the inevitability of the eventual questioning of the rule appears to be the defense for making a poor rule in the first place; and the fact that it will be questioned is used to prove that it cannot be guilty of being a man-made doctrine presented as a doctrine of God. I like how that works.

But one of the problems is precisely that constituents are not always "well aware that many of the rules reflect the consciences of those who are in charge in matters where Scripture is not entirely clear": simply because that is not made clear; on the contrary, dubious proof texts are declared so adamantly that the impression (very likely intended) is that the scriptures are crystal clear on those matters. That (probably all too common) situation, when combined with an accompanying emphasis on an "obedience above all else and no questions asked" policy is pretty concerning. I don't see where discernment and personal holiness are encouraged.

Steve Newman's picture

I am frustrated because so many of the posts here seem to be "written in a vacuum". There is a difference between "spiritual and carnal" in most every place and most every place is a "mixed multitude". It is tempting to just want to deal with the people who want to do right and please God more maturely. However, the world is full of people, especially Christians, who are nowhere near this situation. There is not only the Spirit of God, but also "the spirit of this world".
Aaron is speaking of life situations, not so much the church, as he points out, and yet some raise the red herring of "legalism" at the mention of rules. The fact is that our nations run on rules or laws. Why? Because man keeps coming up with more and more creative ways to be disobedient.
Rules are, in a sense, an acknowledgement of failure. Someone did not do what they should have if they were really thinking of God or His best. And, yes, we need God's grace and forgiveness. But we also don't want the problem to happen again. We develop rules in our workplace because we lose customers and our business is not as successful or profitable if we do not follow them. Is that bad? I tell my kids, and I believe rightly, that we do not try to make rules in our family. If we have to have a rule it is a failure. But we still have to keep making them.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Josh Gelatt wrote:
I'm not really trying to hijack this thread...

You said, "it is not accurate to say that rules cannot play an important part in spiritual growth. They can and often do. "

Where in Scripture does it say this is one of God's means to sanctify His people?
Where in Scripture is there an example of this being used to sanctify His people?

On anther note, the sufficiency of Scripture isn't given by making a rule that no one who is a member can drink alcohol (for example). It is given by teaching our people to use godly discernment in all things and resist anything that will not move them closer to the Savior (perhaps for them that is a cheeseburger). We need to stay where Scripture stays, and have no right to make scripture specific where it has intentionally stayed vague.

Thus, we are to apply Jesus' principles....not whatever man-made rules we think happened to align with those principles. Far too many Fundamentalist think of themselves as the Holy Spirit. I remember reading somewhere that somebody already has that job...


I think I've already answered all this.
If a rule aims to produce obedience and is effective, obedience is clearly part of what God uses to grow us in grace. See Part 1.
Man-made rules... not much more I can say about that. All applications of Scripture are man-made rules. See Part 2.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Aaron Blumer's picture

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rrobinson wrote:
In this bit, I am reminded of the recent open letter about interracial dating and how it was hard to get many people to question that man-made doctrine:
Quote:
Second, in my experience, constituents of rules-heavy institutions are not all that likely to see the rules as "doctrines of God" unless someone presents them as such (and even then it’s a hard sell). Believers are usually well aware that many of the rules reflect the consciences of those who are in charge in matters where Scripture is not entirely clear. In our highly individualistic age, most Christians are more than willing to question whether these rules are truly biblical.

The letter's result was encouraging. Finally, in this terrible day and age of questions. Still, I am confused. It sounds like it is okay to go ahead and create some rule and then present it in a context in which the questioning of the rule is discouraged (in fact, questioning the rule is prohibited by a further rule); and yet it somehow all works out because surely someone will question it anyway, someday. In fact, the inevitability of the eventual questioning of the rule appears to be the defense for making a poor rule in the first place; and the fact that it will be questioned is used to prove that it cannot be guilty of being a man-made doctrine presented as a doctrine of God. I like how that works.

But one of the problems is precisely that constituents are not always "well aware that many of the rules reflect the consciences of those who are in charge in matters where Scripture is not entirely clear": simply because that is not made clear; on the contrary, dubious proof texts are declared so adamantly that the impression (very likely intended) is that the scriptures are crystal clear on those matters. That (probably all too common) situation, when combined with an accompanying emphasis on an "obedience above all else and no questions asked" policy is pretty concerning. I don't see where discernment and personal holiness are encouraged.


What you are answering here is something quite different from what I've been asserting.
The series is about what rules can do when they are done well. I have not made any claims at all about how often this happens. The main problem I'm addressing here is that folks often confuse "a bad idea" with "a poor implementation of a good idea." In the case of rules, many have seen poor implementations (of one degree or other) and are saying "rules are just a bad idea." But there is a difference between bad idea and poor implementation. Many examples of good implementation are out there... they just tend to be boring and are quickly forgotten (it's not news when an airplane doesn't crash).

As for the constituents part of the equation, a couple of clarifications.
The point was not to justify making a poor rule. Can't see how the piece could read that way. Rather, I was answering the idea that making a rule has an inherent tendency to make people think "This rule is equal to revelation from God." The fact that people readily question the biblical basis for rules has no reference at all to how good the rule is, but argues against the idea that people inherently vest rules w/divine authority. They just don't usually do that (and when they do, it's usually because someone taught them to view it that way, not because rules in themselves breed this sort of thinking).
I haven't suggested anywhere that this never happens. In fact I acknowledge in several places (including the introductory paragraphs) that this does occur.

This might be a good place to repeat a point that I didn't give much attention to in the articles but have a couple times in the discussion:
Making rules is dangerous. Not making rules is also dangerous. The former does create some opportunities for quasi-legalistic thinking. The latter creates opportunities for other disasters I've already discussed... including antinomianism or just a failure to put much effort into living "soberly righteously and godly in this present age."

So, again, these articles do not claim that rule making cannot be botched or that there are no bad rules... and examples of bad rules or badly enforced rules do not argue at all against what I've been saying.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Aaron Blumer's picture

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Bob Hayton wrote:
I finally took the time to catch up on reading through the different legalism/rules posts around here. As I read through Mike Durning's series, I was refreshed. He hit many things head on with what I've experienced. He avoided Christian colleges, but in my experience there, the supposed wonderful products of Christian education were treated no better than kindergarteners when it came to trusting them to make reasonable decisions. So now, after enduring Christian education to its end, when you leave the Christian college, then you are magically supposed to just "get it" and be able to thrive on your own with a full-fledged discernment-capable mind. Unfortunately for many it didn't work.

Anyway, I was disappointed by Aaron's articles, especially as they seem to express a wrong view of sin and a wrong view of sanctification. It's not entirely clear and the topic is complex, but I lean toward Josh Gelatt's strong negative reaction to this. Where in Scripture do we see external obedience praised as "good"? And how is mandated "obedience" supposed to make one more likely to have internal obedience develop later? This seems to be moralism.

In the Sunday Schools I grew up in, we learned stories of the Bible as character lessons. Rules of what to do and not to do were stressed to the extreme throughout my Chrisitan school and in my youth group, camp, etc. The whole environment facilitated the growth of "goody two-shoes", of which I was chief. I was constantly praised for what I looked like, merely because I could keep many of the external rules. Meanwhile, those who couldn't keep them fell off the deep end and left church or had other bad things happen to them.

The whole aura was Christians do X. So you need to do X. Doing X keeps you "right with God". You should feel guitly for doing X or correspondingly for not doing Y. You are a big sinner! Just "grit your teeth and do it". "Just determine to do right". "Just dedicate yourself again to God." "Let Go and Let God".

Everything was about what we do or don't do. Not much was about what God did for us, and clear teaching emphasizing that. This is what is missing in much of this. The rules can become a smokescreen that teaches us (directly or by osmosis) that God loves a law-keeper. We were to strive to be really good law-keepers. And then if we did that, we would arrive as the "product" the Christian church-school was aiming at all along....

I don't think it means rules are the problem. It's the over-emphasis on them divorced from a full-orbed context of careful Gospel-teaching. It's easier to think that just as academics is a result of teaching labors + hard work by students, so also morality and Christian character can be a result of teaching labors + rules + hard work by students. Problem is academics and a God-glorifying true morality of heart are radically distinct things. The Bible's clear that the above formula doesn't result in God-glorifying true morality of heart.

Blessings in Christ,

Bob Hayton


Bob, appreciate your thoughts. And one of these days I'm going to take on the whole sanctification and moralism topic. It's just too big for the current series.
Let me ask you this though, is the following true or false:
It's always better to do right than to do wrong.

I just haven't seen anybody make a case yet that if you can't get someone to do right with the right motive ("internal obedience") they should just go ahead and do wrong... and those who have responsibility to watch for their souls should just keep silent or have a chat and let them go their way? But if Heb. tells us to obey those who watch for our souls, don't the soul watchers have to tell us what to do (and not do) at least once in a while? And if we obey them with less than complete understanding and love, are we sinning? Explain to me how this could be the case.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

rrobinson's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

This might be a good place to repeat a point that I didn't give much attention to in the articles but have a couple times in the discussion:
Making rules is dangerous. Not making rules is also dangerous. The former does create some opportunities for quasi-legalistic thinking. The latter creates opportunities for other disasters I've already discussed... including antinomianism or just a failure to put much effort into living "soberly righteously and godly in this present age."

So, again, these articles do not claim that rule making cannot be botched or that there are no bad rules... and examples of bad rules or badly enforced rules do not argue at all against what I've been saying.

Noted. Thanks. I'll repeat a point, too: no-one here is against rules; I certainly am not. I think a large part of the issue, as others have noted, is about who is making which rules for whom, and why. [this wasn't going to be a long post, honest -- sorry ]

I just think it is not so much about individual rules and their merits so much, as though you can weigh up the risks involved for both having or not having the rule and then choose the option that will give you the highest likelihood of a more optimum result (the math part I spoke of). Like the "Prom" issue. I think it is a little more than weighing up the ratios of "good, responsible" kids you have in your school and the caliber of parents in a given year to the numbers of mediocre students and parents; throw in the perceived advantages to certain responsible students by allowing them a "life-experience" opportunity with their peers and measure that against the risks involved. I am thinking there is evidence of a "we have done our job" approach in the "always better to do right" sentiments; as though, if one is kept from doing the wrong thing, then he is automatically doing the right thing.

I think there is slightly more at stake than saying, as it were, "okay, this particular rule may be a little OTT, we have had so much flak from students' parents that we will revisit this particular one as a board. That's not to say we will cave to pressure, but we'll take a look, how's that?". Or, "well, maybe we do have quite a thick handbook, and students these days don't tend to do XYZ anymore; so, let's take out half-a-dozen rules. However, I thought of this new thing kids are doing and we just gotta put the kabosh on that one from the getgo."

It seems that there is a point at which rules (the scope and levels of application as well as just the sheer number) do (or would logically) begin to proliferate exponentially. It goes off the charts. You start with a ten-page handbook, but if you are not careful and you add one more, you better be prepared to have a 100-page handbook! I think that is worth taking a look at. What I mean is that, "if you go there", you have to suddenly be prepared to delineate all kinds of minutiae for every conceivable scenario. And this starts to look (and smell and feel) like some kind of legalism (and the way it is inevitably handled is not far-off, however much you may say that the negative examples don't disqualify the attempt). And you have to be prepared to be pretty intrusive in the life and dynamics of families. That's just the way it is. I think there is a real line, and I think "heavy rule-makers" have to be aware when then are crossing it. If they want to do it, go ahead by all means, but they shouldn't necessarily expect parents (even godly ones) to be on the same page.

For example, you opened the first article with the example of a "drinking party". No-one commenting seemed to know what one is (and you later changed that to "drinking at drinking parties" or something). But the idea is that certain types of party or event (by someone's definition) should be forbidden: whether it is "the Prom", "a mixed-swimming party", a disco, what have you. Great, but I think you are going to have to be prepared to go much further than that (and have, at least in the back of the filing cabinet, a kind of codex like the Pharisees had). What exactly constitutes some of these things? Is a neighborhood get-together at a back-yard BBQ suddenly a "mixed swimming pool party" because there is a pool and three people (out of 100 or so) got in it. No? then how about 15 people, and what ages, and what types of swimming attire? Does one neighbor bringing a bottle of wine and placing it on the drinks table make it a "drinking party." Little Susie comes in and says her family are going to Aunt Mildred's 75th, and she has been known to like her sherry; oh, and she was a bit of a rocker in her day so there may be some music. And some may wonder if that is going to be aligned over a template to see if it fits. Can a parent book a room for his family at a Hotel that tends to have mini-bars in the room? Can he leave his kids alone if it does?

It just seems like it can go on forever. And what makes a focus on certain types of activities any more important than other types of "controversial" behavior that are not brought up (or given as much column inches). Therefore, I think the heavy-rules approach creates a little more than "some opportunities for quasi-legalistic thinking", even to the point of bordering on the inevitable. Also, "disasters", that you place on the other side of the scale, actually lay on both sides. So, no, I personally don't think my objections can be entirely dismissed as merely examples of where some heavy-rules makers have inevitably got it wrong simply because they are human.

The "questioning" that some people seem to be doing is not so much questioning individual rules and whether having it cuts off a measurable risk or not, or whether or not a rule produces particular behavior, practical practice in obedience and submission to authority (though maybe your suspicion here is that we are questioning it because we secretly like engaging in a particular activity, like going to the movie theatre or something). It is whether this ought to be the goal. What is wrong with simply stating in the HandBook, for example, that it is forbidden to drink? (it's forbidden to "drink and chew and go with girls who do" kind of thing); and then leaving some of the particular applications of each and every situation in which these offenses could ever possibly take place to the discretion of the parents? (where it arguably belongs, however ideal that may seem and however painful it is to note that some parents are just better than others).

Also, I think an appeal to having a standard standard for all kids no matter what home they come from is kind of lame. That doesn't really help the nurture that should be taking place in the less rules-compliant homes. Kids already know that life is unfair. If little Susie comes in to class and complains that she didn't get to go to the Prom and Tommy did, then anyone can say: Tommy's dad isn't your dad, you aren't Tommy. If a kid can't accept that, then I think there are deeper issues than whether or not they can go to the Prom. If a particular Prom is concerning to a particular church or school, then why not have a great big meeting with all parents and staff and explain the issues. If a parent still feels that his child is mature enough and the parent allows attendance, then maybe the school just has to let it go. If the parents seem as though they just don't care, then schedule some sessions.

It sounds like hard work, but many on these threads appear to be advocating this kind of approach. I am just glad that I am not a Christian school administrator. I don't know how you can just say that this approach is not as good as the alternative "heavy-rules approach", or that this approach just would not work. I guess, conversely, I am saying that given a choice, I think that the "heavy-rules approach" is less-desirable (and therefore the wrong choice for very many families). I would hope that there is a mix of schools in one area that reflect different choices. I don't think that every church that starts a school, or every administrator, should just default to a heavy-rules approach as though it is de facto the best all things being equal and when it can be carried out with some "acceptable degree of success" (whatever the measure of that may be). I would sure like to think that the other approach would (continue to) work my family's case (yes, I think it works in our case by the grace of God), and I would be looking for schools or a church which took that approach; because I already know with just three young children that each one is completely different and I have to deal with each of them differently (just as God deals with each of us differently, if I can play that card). Maybe I will allow one of my children to attend some type of Prom in later years, but not the other two, I don't know yet. I do know that I wouldn't in good conscience sign my family up at the outset to certain specific behaviors for years simply because a school required it of all students and all families, however well-intentioned (however well-intentioned was the school, and we too to consistently meet the requirements). And yes, there will be disasters on this side; just as there are throughout life; and we must be prepared to deal with them all by the grace of God.

Aaron Blumer's picture

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There are definitely some complexities involved in using rules effectively in a ministry. I think I've been clear about that. I'm also not arguing in favor of a rules-heavy approach. (All of the half a dozen schools I've been involved in could have chucked a few rules without the sky falling. A few of them needed a couple of new ones to replace them.)

My target here has been an overly broad rejection of wisely drawn and implemented rules as having no value in helping believer's grow and being inherently oriented toward "legalism." The gist I've heard in recent years has been "OK, maybe once in a while a rule might be OK, if we have to... I guess." But this is out of balance in the anti-rules direction, as is the assertion that they cannot be of any use toward sanctification.

Rules can and do help believers grow, even mature ones. The evidence I've provided included the fact that doing right is always better than doing wrong (yes there are gradations between worst choice and best choice, as I noted in Part 1), that it is impossible to live the Bible without applying beyond what is written, that folks in leadership have responsibility for the care of those under them, that the Pharisees main problem was not their rules or their "legalism" (in the popular sense of that term), that a true believer never acts in a total absence of love and faith (so either-or language on this point is not accurate), that pride and self-righteousness are remedied by the Gospel message, not by removing rules, and several other points.

As for complexities, dangers, etc., there are some hard questions, but some of these are definitely exaggerated. The "drinking party" illustration is a good example. Every high school kid knows what a drinking party is, and making a rule against that is as as simple as "students will not attend parties where alcohol is served, those who do....[penalty ]." It isn't hard.

As for proliferation, I briefly addressed that objection in Part 2 already. Not only acknowledged that too many rules is ruinous (introductory paragraphs), but in the Objections section, gave at least one reason why making rules like a run away train is unwise. (There's actually a hint of a reason in the inro part also... the cold, offense-focused culture that develops).

So, I think I can summarize my thesis again yet another way...
The fact that something is often done badly doesn't prove it's a bad idea. It only proves it's a bad idea to do it badly.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

RPittman's picture

Aaron, I believe, has raised some good points that are often overlooked in a discussion of ruls. In turn, he has felt the heat of those who disagree--some well-thought out and some off-the-cuff. Yet, I see no convincing refutation of the points that he has raised.

I have two unrelated questions:

(1) How does one explicitly convey expectations and knowledge of right and wrong to a child without rules?

(2) What is the explicit Scriptural basis for differentiating between rules in the secular and sacred realms (i.e. pragmatic day-to-day and spiritual)? (IMHO, a lot of human inferences are being made and calling it Biblical.)

Any takers?

Bob Hayton's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Bob, appreciate your thoughts. And one of these days I'm going to take on the whole sanctification and moralism topic. It's just too big for the current series.
Let me ask you this though, is the following true or false:
It's always better to do right than to do wrong.

I just haven't seen anybody make a case yet that if you can't get someone to do right with the right motive ("internal obedience") they should just go ahead and do wrong... and those who have responsibility to watch for their souls should just keep silent or have a chat and let them go their way? But if Heb. tells us to obey those who watch for our souls, don't the soul watchers have to tell us what to do (and not do) at least once in a while? And if we obey them with less than complete understanding and love, are we sinning? Explain to me how this could be the case.


Aaron,

I'll grant it's better to do right than wrong. But God is looking for obedience of faith, obedience of the heart. As Col. 2 teaches, rules have no value in curbing the flesh. Gal. 3:1-5 teaches sanctification comes through hearing the Gospel with faith, not by trying real hard to keep rules.

We are to obey those in authority over us. But they are to patiently lead us and interact with us. Top-down rules are not necessarily in view there. Rom. 14-15 don't allow a setting up of rules to govern others' consciences on disputed matters. Discernment and application of Biblical principles is what we want to teach. This is not always encouraged by a mere dispensing of rules.

I think in general, rules tend toward a careful delineating of everything we can do in life in terms of right and wrong. This downplays discernment and can foster a legalistic environment. We are to follow our leadership as they are following Christ, not a blind obedience regardless of the leader's walk.

I believe the Bible teaches us how to deal with sin. It doesn't tell us to set up a big fence to prevent the sin. At times it is better for the young one to fall and learn through the biblical process of repentance, restoration, confession, discipline, dealing with sin, etc., then to prevent the fall and teach adherence to the letter of the law. Remember the letter kills but the spirit gives life.

I know we're interweaving sanctification alot in with discussion of rules. I just don't see Scripture setting up a rules-keeping pattern as life-producing and helpful. The pattern in the NT is to avoid the laws and instead be governed by the internal moving of the Spirit -- the law of Christ. Unless we reach the heart all is vain.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

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Bob,
We're making progress and getting closing together here I think... maybe. I just want to be accurately understood.
I've been pretty clear in these articles that obedience out of faith and love is the proper goal and nothing less is "good enough." And I answered the objection from Coloss.2 in Part 2 near the end.

As for whether man made rules can aid in sanctification, what I'd appreciate is seeing some holes poked in the case I've made. If a rule has the result of helping a believer with incomplete faith and imperfect love do what's right (which you've conceded is always better than doing what's wrong), isn't that particular rule helping the believer grow in grace? If not, how is it possible to do something God has commanded and not benefit spiritually from the act?
In that case, we'd have to argue either that it is possible to do right and spiritually decline in the act or argue that it is possible to do right with a spiritually neutral outcome. Or am I missing another option?

And, again, a rule that aims to produce obedience to Scripture is fundamentally the same thing as an application of Scripture... and what is Heb.5.14ff for if we are not supposed to do that or if doing it does not result in our becoming more like Christ?

[br ]Also, for the sake of clarity, what is "legalistic environment"? What I think I'm seeing, sometimes, is an a priori conviction that rules are legalistic, period. So anything I say that smells of that must be anti gospel and legalistic, but we have not established how applying Scripture in a somewhat codified way is "legalism."

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Quote:
Where in Scripture do we see external obedience praised as "good"? And how is mandated "obedience" supposed to make one more likely to have internal obedience develop later?
This is known as developing an "orientation to authority". Rules represent authority and function as training wheels for those developing. The person who is unable to accept rules is by default, rejecting the authority of such rules. Subsequently any person who reaches adulthood in such a state, that is disorientation to authority, is unprepared for the authoritative nature of mature life and particularly the nature of the Christian life, which involves all aspects of authority providing instruction, correction and direction.

Idealism promotes the false concept that people "naturally" develop favorable internal mechanisms. This is not so. In fact, the soul must be conditioned and when it comes to authority it begins with teaching children to obey rules, hence in their obedience they come to recognize the authority of the one giving such rules and start to develop respect and appreciation toward authority and place themselves in a position of strength toward authority in this manner.

Why is this so important, particularly for the believer, but even for all people?

Because it is through authoritative teaching we receive the truth and the soul that cannot observe valid rules and has issues with valid authority will have issues with the authoritative teaching of Scripture, hence placing themselves in a lifetime context of weakness and spiritual immaturity. Typically such people, when they encounter words and teachings that challenges their theological house of cards, revert to their earliest orientation which really is their current orientation and that is to reject anything that challenges their poorly constructed world view or theology or whatever context in which they are found. They are unable to recognize and in fact refuse to recognize the authoritative words of others no matter the evidence presented.

Unlike the immature soul that has constant and petty issues with rules (or if they are a rule enforcer, heaven forbid, they do so rather inconsistently by targeting people they have a personal issue with while ignoring their own violations or the violations of others they favor) the mature soul understands the validity of the rules because he accepts the validity of the authority who has established those rules. But the immature soul, which never grew beyond rule observation in order to develop respect and appreciation for the validity of the authority behind the rules, remains incapacitated.

It is interesting to watch such people, whether believers or unbelievers. One rather predominant feature in their negative reaction to authoritative teaching will be their need to personally attack the individual stating things they cannot bear to hear due to the fragility of their inner being. Why attack the person? Because they are attacking the source of "authority". If they can somehow, in their mind, reduce the credibility of the source then they, by default, they can destroy its authority. And if its authority is destroyed via personal attacks, then they can reject that authoritative voice's words. And such persons you will find do not make their arguments about the the content, rather it is consistently about the "source". Why? Again, their lifelong disorientation to authority.

Obeying rules is not the end, no doubt, but they are a means to a very necessary end if one is going to mature.

Bob Hayton's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Bob,
We're making progress and getting closing together here I think... maybe. I just want to be accurately understood.
I've been pretty clear in these articles that obedience out of faith and love is the proper goal and nothing less is "good enough." And I answered the objection from Coloss.2 in Part 2 near the end.

As for whether man made rules can aid in sanctification, what I'd appreciate is seeing some holes poked in the case I've made. If a rule has the result of helping a believer with incomplete faith and imperfect love do what's right (which you've conceded is always better than doing what's wrong), isn't that particular rule helping the believer grow in grace? If not, how is it possible to do something God has commanded and not benefit spiritually from the act?
In that case, we'd have to argue either that it is possible to do right and spiritually decline in the act or argue that it is possible to do right with a spiritually neutral outcome. Or am I missing another option?

And, again, a rule that aims to produce obedience to Scripture is fundamentally the same thing as an application of Scripture... and what is Heb.5.14ff for if we are not supposed to do that or if doing it does not result in our becoming more like Christ?

[br ]Also, for the sake of clarity, what is "legalistic environment"? What I think I'm seeing, sometimes, is an a priori conviction that rules are legalistic, period. So anything I say that smells of that must be anti gospel and legalistic, but we have not established how applying Scripture in a somewhat codified way is "legalism."


Aaron,

Re: Col. 2, I'm not sure you adequately dealt with it. I think the passage is saying that the rules themselves have no value in curbing the flesh. Not just the ascetic factors of the rule, but the rules themselves.

Also, you say we benefit spiritually by external obedience. I don't know if you can actually make that case Scripturally. A pagan who is moral, receives no spiritual benefit for his prideful, self-reliant, atheistic moral behavior. Moral behavior does not de facto bestow spiritual benefits.

Rules could help teach discernment to some degree, I'm sure. I don't think they are necessarily legalistic period. But rules can aid a legalistic environment quite easily, so they are dangerous. I'm not saying we should discount them altogether, but be very careful in our use of them.

Keeping a rule is obedience to authority. But it isn't measuring up to God's standard of righteousness, necessarily, in the given activity the rule addresses. This point is not explicitly made clear often when rules are in place.

I do admit I'm thinking through a lot of this on the run, and you have taken time to write out your thoughts in depth. I appreciate that and I appreciate the interaction. I think it sounds like you are directly contradicting Mike Durning's series and saying, no rules are hardly dangerous at all. His experience, mine, and many others would say no, rules can be very dangerous and aid a legalistic mindset. We see Scripture attacking legalism and its rules and we don't see a lot of express benefits of rules given in Scripture. There are times the NT authors could have given us rules and purposely didn't. I don't see that we cannot but conclude that they want us to follow their lead and not bind others where Christ has made us free.

Ethics is more complicated than a Christian school handbook. But I know that my time in a Christian school didn't teach me that, or help me all that much in understanding how to make my own ethical choices. Having my hand held, and being told what to think, do or act in every laid out scenario in the rule book, doesn't do all that much for preparing me to live a life without the authority powers that be. As has been said, often the rules stem from a culture in fundamentalism of a top-down system where we control behavior to produce a product, and only choices that look right from our perspective are allowed. This sets up a system where dictatorial figure heads are worshipped and Scripture is abused.

This doesn't make all rules bad. It isn't to say that the extreme case governs everything. But it is to point out the elephant in the room and say that rules systems can lead there.

I'm probably not explaining myself well enough here. And will most likely bow out before too long. But hopefully something of what I'm saying makes some sense. I'll continue to follow the discussion and seek to learn from others here.

Blessings,

Bob

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Aaron Blumer's picture

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A Christian is a new creature, united with Christ, indwelt by the Spirit, adopted, and a zillion other mind boggling things. So we ought to pretty much assume the spiritual impact of moral behavior by unbelievers in no way resembles that of believers!

I'm afraid I'm loosing my will to keep pointing out the same things over and over, but it is simply not possible for a believer to do right and fail to be positively impacted by the act in a spiritual way. Walking worthy is called "walking" for a reason. It involves obedience, whether external or internal. Though the latter is always best, the truth is, no believer has ever yet acted with 100% pure motives. We always fail to love as we should and we always have less faith (or less informed faith) than we should. We do not act either internally or externally. Just as a believer never fully obeys internally, he never fully obeys only externally.

In any case, to make my point, I do not have to even have to prove that obedience/doing right is always beneficial. I only need to prove that it sometimes is. And that is just so, so easy to anyone who is looking at it without a prior commitment to reject it.
In reality, I believe that whenever a rule results in a believer doing right, he has simply by that act not done something worse (which I believe you've also granted) and so, in that small way, he has moved toward walking worthy.
But even if we say "only the absolute best of rules implemented in the absolute best way can help a believer grow every once in a great while," the broad anti-rules attitude many have voiced here is not warranted. But putting it that way would be a pretty big understatement.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Anne Sokol's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
But even if we say "only the absolute best of rules implemented in the absolute best way can help a believer grow every once in a great while," the broad anti-rules attitude many have voiced here is not warranted. But putting it that way would be a pretty big understatement.
I would put it this way; I don't think people are opposed to obeying rules, so much as they are opposed to the atmosphere and emphasis many rules create.

rules in a place of business are usually pretty straightforwardly understandable about why they exsist.

but put that into a Christian atmosphere like a school, where rules started out as sermon topics, for example, and it's a whole 'nother story.

Aaron Blumer's picture

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Anne Sokol wrote:
Aaron Blumer wrote:
But even if we say "only the absolute best of rules implemented in the absolute best way can help a believer grow every once in a great while," the broad anti-rules attitude many have voiced here is not warranted. But putting it that way would be a pretty big understatement.
I would put it this way; I don't think people are opposed to obeying rules, so much as they are opposed to the atmosphere and emphasis many rules create.

rules in a place of business are usually pretty straightforwardly understandable about why they exsist.

but put that into a Christian atmosphere like a school, where rules started out as sermon topics, for example, and it's a whole 'nother story.


Don't really disagree with any of that except that you must not have worked in the same kinds of places I have! (Let's just say I've seen lots of nutty corporate workplace rules!). I've also never seen a school rule start out as a sermon topic. But I don't doubt that some do this.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

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