In Defense of Rules, Part 2

Quote-PhariseesRead 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 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 many fundamentalists and evangelicals are inclined to nowadays. Here, I’ll 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 (or are simply regulatory rules to help things run smoothly). 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 Gospels’ frequent and intense criticism of the Pharisees indicates that believers are highly 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. What we find there is that the Pharisees imposed rules on others they themselves had no intention of obeying (Matt. 23:4), that they were in love with the praise of men (Matt. 23:6-7), and that 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 pervasive and determined 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 due the the same human nature, 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.

[node:bio/aaron-blumer body]

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Michelle Shuman's picture

I really appreciate what you have written.  Recently, I came to the realization that Christ never condemned the Pharisees for their rules, but rather for their heart condition and attitude.  I believe we are losing our effectiveness for Christ in this world, because we are so busy trying to be like the world instead of like Christ.  Our heart attitudes and our actions must both be inline with Scripture in order to be truly Christ like.

Michelle Shuman

Shaynus's picture

In my mind, institutional rules and church rules are very much in different categories. Institutions can narrow their own focus however they want, while churches don't have as many options to do so (or shouldn't in my opinion). 

I like the idea of rules being coupled with good teaching. Paul set a rule of how one should treat meat offered to idols, but also taught on what the truth was to the point that the rule should have been irrellevent over time. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Shaynus wrote:

In my mind, institutional rules and church rules are very much in different categories. Institutions can narrow their own focus however they want, while churches don't have as many options to do so (or shouldn't in my opinion). 

I like the idea of rules being coupled with good teaching. Paul set a rule of how one should treat meat offered to idols, but also taught on what the truth was to the point that the rule should have been irrellevent over time. 

With you on both of these points... and, Michelle, on yours as well.

Because the church has been given its mission, it isn't free to become, for example, a military school. On the other hand, there's really no reason why a Christian school can't become a military school if it wants to (though not in the sense of 'operated by the US Armed Services').

That said, even with churches, there's a lot of room... but there is so much to consider. With regulatory/process rules, you're just talking about safety and efficiency with resources--so it's about having rules that help keep people safe, take good care of property, spend wisely, etc. 

But when you get into lifestyle rules--rules we attach moral significance to--the church is more limited. The church isn't the only institution God has ordained. So civil authority has its purposes, home and family has its purposes. Church is not isolated from but should honor them, don't you think? A whole lot of the lifestyle stuff should be up to families to govern. How much? Well, we don't have any black and white on that.

Michelle: I hear what you're saying. Sometimes it seems like we're just afraid of a little of rigor in our Christian living. We wouldn't want to start getting "religious" about it. Wink

dmyers's picture

It seems to me, Aaron, that you are much too quick to distinguish the legalism of the Pharisees from the legalism that is all too often characteristic of fundamentalist leaders and churches.  Your recitation of Christ's criticisms of the Pharisees is a bit of a straw man.  Do we really think that ALL Pharisees "had no intention of obeying" their own rules, committed extortion, and devoured widows' houses?  Do we really think that ALL Pharisees knowingly "refused to enter the kingdom of heaven and sought to prevent others from entering as well"?  (I've inserted the word "knowingly" because I think it's what you meant; if you aren't arguing that their refusal and prevention were intentional, then the distinction you're making between the Pharisees and today's legalists obviously starts to evaporate.)

I assume the answer to these questions is "no" -- that we understand that the Pharisees generally thought that they were doing right, even though they were in fact getting their theology and their worship wrong.  

Similarly, your statement that "The Pharisees were self-righteous legalists not because they had strict and numerous rules, but because they were proud and unbelieving" incorrectly implies a potential difference between being a self-righteous legalist or being proud and unbelieving, on the one hand, and having "strict and numerous rules" on the other hand.  In fact, they're inseparable.  The Pharisees were self-righteous leglists who, like all self-righteous legalists, had strict and numerous rules because they were proud and unbelieving (i.e., they did not believe God's Word that they could never be righteous and that they needed a sacrificial savior instead of rigorously controlled external behavior that would earn them salvation).  

And the key, I think, is that (a) apart from the gospel, we're all either libertines (not caring whether we're righteous or not) or we're Pharisees (trying to earn our salvation by our behavior and our rules), and (b) even as Christians, we are prone to the same errors -- we're either guilty of caring too little about becoming Christlike or we're guilty of equating Christlikeness with keeping rules that we and others have set up very much as the Pharisees did.

So you're letting us all off the hook too easily, making it too easy to dismiss the Pharisees as a category of sinners whose errors we contemporary Christians could hardly ever repeat.  After all, who among us ever adopts and enforces rules we never intend to keep, or knowingly refuse to enter the kingdom and prevent others from doing so?  We can all deny that behavior.  But who among us can deny unintentionally following and expecting others to follow rules that ostensibly contribute to our sanctification when in fact they do nothing of the sort, sometimes even to the point that we unintentionally fail to enter into the real fellowship with God that we should be having and also prevent others from doing the same?

As a result, I worry that you've become a dream apologist for the stripe of fundamentalism that I had hoped was becoming more marginalized.  (And, in case there is any doubt, believe me, it's still out there.  It's the growing church across the street from my neighborhood; it's the good-sized church my (ex)-father-in-law attends and extols in the next town over; and it at least infects the music program of the very large church that is now sending one of its assistant pastors to become the senior pastor of the IFB church where I used to be a deacon.)

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

dmyers wrote:
Similarly, your statement that "The Pharisees were self-righteous legalists not because they had strict and numerous rules, but because they were proud and unbelieving" incorrectly implies a potential difference between being a self-righteous legalist or being proud and unbelieving, on the one hand, and having "strict and numerous rules" on the other hand.  In fact, they're inseparable.  The Pharisees were self-righteous leglists who, like all self-righteous legalists, had strict and numerous rules because they were proud and unbelieving (i.e., they did not believe God's Word that they could never be righteous and that they needed a sacrificial savior instead of rigorously controlled external behavior that would earn them salvation).
Emphasis Added

 

You know, I hear this  statement made almost everytime someone brings up the accusation of legalism. This is completely false. Legalsim has no inherent tie to the number or structure of laws. Those nasty Pharisees found some 613 commands in the Old Testament. However, most modern accusers of legalism fail to realize there are over 1,100 commands in the New Testament (not counting the Gospels). It seems that the people of God in the age of grace have more rules than the people of God did in the age of  the law. Aaron is dead on here.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

dmyers's picture

And you're criticizing the wrong person. I did not disagree with Aaron on the ground that he understated the number of the Pharisees' rules. I wasn't even the first to mention the number of their rules. It was Aaron who used the phrase "strict and numerous rules.". I simply repeated the same phrase in my response. 

 

More importantly, comparing the number of commands that are in scripture to the number of man-made rules the Pharisees came up with is beyond apples and oranges; it's matter and anti-matter. By definition, if the command is in scripture, it's not extra-biblical. Aaron's post and my response are concerned solely with extra-biblical rules. 

Charlie's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:

dmyers wrote:
Similarly, your statement that "The Pharisees were self-righteous legalists not because they had strict and numerous rules, but because they were proud and unbelieving" incorrectly implies a potential difference between being a self-righteous legalist or being proud and unbelieving, on the one hand, and having "strict and numerous rules" on the other hand.  In fact, they're inseparable.  The Pharisees were self-righteous leglists who, like all self-righteous legalists, had strict and numerous rules because they were proud and unbelieving (i.e., they did not believe God's Word that they could never be righteous and that they needed a sacrificial savior instead of rigorously controlled external behavior that would earn them salvation).
Emphasis Added

 

You know, I hear this  statement made almost everytime someone brings up the accusation of legalism. This is completely false. Legalsim has no inherent tie to the number or structure of laws. Those nasty Pharisees found some 613 commands in the Old Testament. However, most modern accusers of legalism fail to realize there are over 1,100 commands in the New Testament (not counting the Gospels). It seems that the people of God in the age of grace have more rules than the people of God did in the age of  the law. Aaron is dead on here.

 

Chip, I'm guessing you're just making up a number or recalling something that you've heard, but there are nowhere near that number of rules in the New Testament. I know you said "commands," but I'm purposely saying "rules" because that's the issue in discussion. A rule is distinct from a more general term such as "command" because a rule is normative over time and acts as a general guideline for behavior, whereas many other types of commands can simply be one-time statements, for instance, "Hand me that screwdriver."

I suspect that the number you cited is simply the result of someone counting the number of imperatival-form verbs in the New Testament. According to Bibleworks, there are 1676 (793 with the Gospels excluded). But only a tiny minority could actually be counted as rules. And even some of the ones that are pretty clearly stated as rules, "Do not forbid to speak in tongues," are not really accepted as rules by many Christians. 

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

dmyers wrote:

It seems to me, Aaron, that you are much too quick to distinguish the legalism of the Pharisees from the legalism that is all too often characteristic of fundamentalist leaders and churches.  Your recitation of Christ's criticisms of the Pharisees is a bit of a straw man.  Do we really think that ALL Pharisees "had no intention of obeying" their own rules, committed extortion, and devoured widows' houses?

I would ask what do we actually find them condemned for? What they all did or didn't do is not Jesus' point.

Quote:
Similarly, your statement that "The Pharisees were self-righteous legalists not because they had strict and numerous rules, but because they were proud and unbelieving" incorrectly implies a potential difference between being a self-righteous legalist or being proud and unbelieving, on the one hand, and having "strict and numerous rules" on the other hand. In fact, they're inseparable.  The Pharisees were self-righteous leglists who, like all self-righteous legalists, had strict and numerous rules because they were proud and unbelieving (i.e., they did not believe God's Word that they could never be righteous and that they needed a sacrificial savior instead of rigorously controlled external behavior that would earn them salvation).  

You seem to miss my reasoning here. It is possible for one person/group to have B because of A and someone else have B because of Z. We are simply not told in Scripture that strict and numerous rules must be motivated by unbelief and pride, and  as I pointed out in the article, many of today's rule-makers are neither unbelieving nor proud.

So I have not yet seen a biblical case that the two are inextricably linked. I freely grant that the Ph. had tons of rules because they were self-righteous, proud and unbelieving. It does not follow that all who believe in rigorous discipline must have the same motivational mix.

Quote:
As a result, I worry that you've become a dream apologist for the stripe of fundamentalism that I had hoped was becoming more marginalized.  (And, in case there is any doubt, believe me, it's still out there...

I want to encourage readers not to overlook important distinctions. What I'm arguing here is against a view that sees rules as inherently hostile to growth in grace. My approach has been to show that biblical basis for that conclusion is lacking--and that both experience and some Scripture argue that rules have value. I have not defended illegimate overreaches of athority or autocratic rule-making processes.

About rules in the New Testament

Again, important distinctions. Commands are not the same thing as rules, though they can overlap. "Love God" is a command; "don't eat pork" is both command and a rule. But there's a point we shouldn't overlook here: the NT is indeed full of imperatives and we err if we represent the Christian life as one that is without rigor or obligation.

Steve Newman's picture

For the most part, it is inaccurate to call the imperatives of the NT "rules" in the OT sense. Most of them have to do with attitude rather than specific application. 

So why do we make rules? As a parent, when do I make rules for my kids? The rules come in when there is a failure to deal with life in a godly manner; "Moses permitted the bill of divorce because of the hardness of your hearts" is an example. It is a loss when we have to make a rule, because they tend to be reactive. Someone has made an end run around God's best for them, and we need to close a "loophole". It is not a means to godliness, but rather a failure to act godly and a marker to show others that these acts were not godly. It is to show the immature their need to mature. It is a school-master, hopefully to show us Christ. 

We have to have rules, for not all have faith, and, even if they did, it would not be consistent. There will be some sort of structure even without them, but more likely people "doing what is right in their own eyes".

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

An imperative is an attitude? Wonder if Paul realized that as he was penning his epistles?

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Talking about rules kind of cries out for precise terms.

Saying "most of the commands have to do with attitudes" is not the same as saying "an imperative is an attitude." But it's true that most of the commands of the NT are broad principles and a whole lot of them concern attitudes.

But I would partly disagree with this observation:

Quote:
  "Moses permitted the bill of divorce because of the hardness of your hearts" is an example. It is a loss when we have to make a rule, because they tend to be reactive. Someone has made an end run around God's best for them, and we need to close a "loophole". It is not a means to godliness, but rather a failure to act godly and a marker to show others that these acts were not godly.
The key phrase in there is "tend to be."

It's true that some rules are made to close loopholes, but there is no loophole to close unless there is already some kind of rule. And closing a loophole is not the same thing as appying a prinicple... which is what most rules actually are. (What Moses "permitted," in that case appears to be creating a loophole rather than closing one)

As a result, a rule can indeed be "a means to godliness." It certainly is when we make a rule to put a stop to "an end run around God's best." The point is clearly the spiritual benefit of the person(s) involved in that scenario.

Definitions

I don't suppose we have to agree on a definition of "rule," but for the sake of understanding what my two essays mean, a "rule" is a requirement or prohibition that concerns a specific, recognizeable behavior.

So, a few examples:

Rules

  • Don't lie to one another (Col. 3:9)
  • Don't commit adultery (Rom. 13:9)
  • Don't kill (Rom. 13:9)
  • Those who don't work (and can) don't eat (2Thess. 3:10)
  • No widows under 60 on the care list (1Tim.5:9)

Not "rules"

  • Love your neighbor
  • Live soberly, righteously and godly (Titus 2:12)
  • Don't set your affection on things on earth (Col. 3:2)
  • Don't present your members as instruments of unrighteousness (Rom.6:13)
  • Be kind to one another (Eph.4:32)

Of course, the boundary between rules and broadly-stated callings/duties is a fuzzy one. But I think these illustrate the difference between prinicple and rule, broad imperative and application. Rules are (nearly?) always applications of some kind of Scripture, though the principle might be a an extremely broad one and rely heavily on non-biblical information (1Cor.10:31 has many applications/rules like that, for example).

To summarize:

Many NT imperatives are rules. Many are not.

All rules expressed in Scripture are commands but not all commands are rules.

All rules are obligatory but not all obligations are rules.

A series of Venn diagrams would be great here but no time to make at present.

dmyers's picture

Wasn't the OP about the propriety of extra-biblical rules?  If so, why are we now parsing the differences between rules, commands, etc. that are explicitly in the Bible rather than debating the thesis and the various applications of the OP?  

And Chip, why no surreply on your disagreement with my first post, to which I replied?

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Not sure what you wanted me to say. I was talking about the  definition of legalism having nothing to do with the number of rules invoked. I agree that discussion about the biblical vs. extra-biblical rules must recognize  they are different animals. However, legalism can be present in both situations without having anything to do with the number of rules.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

dmyers wrote:

Wasn't the OP about the propriety of extra-biblical rules?  If so, why are we now parsing the differences between rules, commands, etc. that are explicitly in the Bible rather than debating the thesis and the various applications of the OP?  

Not off track I don't think. We have to understand what rules are--or at least how others are using the term--to talk clearly about them. And the value of "extra-biblical" rules depends so much on how we understand the purposes of rules in general and how sanctification works. The latter is probably the single biggest factor, and how we see biblical rules working in relation to sanctification is huge for understanding how any kinds of rules work (or can work) in sanctification.

What we see in Scripture, even in the NT, is that principle is applied in rules for the benefit of the believers or the benefit of the church (arbuably inseparable), etc.

The rules for widows I mentioned above are an especially helpful case

Some features . . .

  • The rules are external and concrete: e.g,, no widows under 60 on the care list
  • The rules are meant to solve practical problems: wise and fair management of limited resources
  • The rules are also meant to avoid spiritual problems (and how can mitigating a spiritual problem/sin problem fail to contribute to progress in sanctification?)
    - 1 Tim. 5:4 - helps the children of younger widows learn important lessons
    - 1 Tim. 5:5 - directly helps older widows in their relationship with God
    - 1 Tim. 5:6-7, see also 1 Tim. 5:11 - helps younger widows avoid temptations
  • The rules are in the Bible but are otherwise not all that special. They apply principles to particular problems.

What I mean by that 4th bullet point: Why do so many assume that an extra-biblical rule must be of fundamentally different character than a biblical one? This is a bit like saying an inspired Proverb will make you wiser but your grandmother's proverb can't. We know that Grandma's poverb is not guaranteed to make you wiser--it's not inspired. But would we assume it is incapable of making you wiser?

So I'm arguing that rules--as applications of principle--can have an important role in growth in godliness, whether they are inspired rules or not.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron Blumer wrote:

What I mean by that 4th bullet point: Why do so many assume that an extra-biblical rule must be of fundamentally different character than a biblical one? This is a bit like saying an inspired Proverb will make you wiser but your grandmother's proverb can't. We know that Grandma's poverb is not guaranteed to make you wiser--it's not inspired. But would we assume it is incapable of making you wiser?


To an extent, you answered your own question -- "it's not inspired." That makes the character fundamentally different. It's not just that Paul or other men that wrote scripture used their reasoning to make logical conclusions that become rules -- it's that God was breathing out his wisdom in those conclusions.

Of course that doesn't mean that wisdom from Grandma is incapable of making one wiser. But as you said, it's not guaranteed, and therefore its universal applicability is in question. We can all make good logical conclusions from what we do see in scripture. But unlike Paul and the other writers of scripture, we are not promised that our wisdom and logic will have the same value, since God was not breathing out through us. We can't speak "ex cathedra."

(I didn't even get into the distinction that must be made between implication and inference, since many rules that have been handed down too often come from inference that is presumed to be implication. I think it's enough to show that what we see as necessarily implied is not the same as what Paul saw through God's wisdom.)

Our logic may seem open and shut to us, but that is clearly not enough to place it on the level of scripture, and therefore, our conclusions must be treated differently. I think most of us would agree that not all rules are bad, and we can have a number of useful and helpful rules that come from our understanding of scripture. However, we must understand they will never have equal weight with scripture, and we cannot consider our sanctification to be dependent on them, no matter how good they sound.

Dave Barnhart

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Hmm... well, after your clarifications of what you mean, I'm probably splitting hairs, but to me "fundamentally different" doesn't describe the difference between "something certainly true" and something "less certainly true." We're talking about perfect and less than perfect examples of the same thing.

The key idea at issue is whether rules in a school or home or ministry, personal life, or, to a degree, church can be instrumental in sanctification or are inherently hostile to it. If the former, many need to rachet down their anti-"manmade rules" rhetoric. If the latter, many institutions need to burn their handbooks. So the question has strong implications for methodology, too (and let's face it, humans tend to care most about practical results).

So I'm balking at "fundamentally different" because, if an inspired "rule" (see defining stuff above) can be of spiritual benefit, an uninspired one is--as a category--something of potentially (but not certainly) less spiritual benefit.

(OK, I've opened a door now for a sufficiency-of-Scripture counter-argument. So I'll watch and see if that happens Smile ... my gut tells me my thesis could have a real problem on this point, but it also tells me that there's got to be some explanation because the case so far seems inescapable.)

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

IFB Rule-Making 101- 

  1. Take verses like 1 Cor. 10:31 "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." and Romans 13:14- "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts." 
  2. Apply Hebrews 13:17 "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you."
  3. The elder/pastor/teacher declares that television, movies, contemporary music, the internet, Skittles, and Big Macs are all problematic, and therefore prohibited. 

Who can deny that modern entertainment makes provision for the flesh? Can anyone really listen to Katy Perry, Foster the People, or Adele 'to the glory of God'? Are we so healthy that we can down a Big Mac without a twinge of worry about gaining weight or clogging one's arteries? After all, 'whatsoever is not of faith is sin', right? Would we not benefit tremendously from putting away the television, turning off the radio/CD player, and eating healthier foods? And since we are to obey authority, they are teaching for our benefit, and they've not required us to do anything 'unScriptural', must we not comply?

It isn't a bad thing when folks are taught to consider the implications of their actions for their mental/emotional/spiritual/physical health and well-being, and they are encouraged to exercise self-control and discernment- but it does get scary when someone pieces together doctrines and policies from a patchwork of verses, and since they've used Scripture to support their position, they have in essence prefaced their stance as "Thus sayeth the Lord". Many 'rules' are taught as being level with Scripture by this very process. 

What's more confusing is that I would agree with everything I said above in 1-3. Television is a significant contributor to making America stupid, lazy, fat, discontent, and boring beyond belief, much less about as spiritual as coleslaw. As for modern music, I'd rather listen to crickets. I stopped eating fast food awhile back (although not on purpose, it just sort of happened), and now I can't eat it because it makes me ralph, and I have to say that I feel much better without it.

But for a leader to make rules about what people can and cannot do in their personal lives... there's a line there somewhere, and it seems to me that it's been painted over so many times, no one knows where it is anymore. So maybe people have gone to the other extreme, declaring 'man-made rules' as inherently dubious. I agree that tossing out rules altogether is not the right solution.

There's one 'rule' that IMO would basically cover everything, and that is teaching and preaching Scripture in an orderly fashion, being a consistent example of Biblical good works, encouraging and inspiring people to search the Scriptures on their own, and let the Holy Spirit do His work. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Classic example of overstepping authority. These are matters of conscience and I might preach some of them but would never try to turn them into rules where they're not relevant--and don't possess the authority to unilaterally turn them into rules even where they are relevant.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

From JNoel's link...

How does an institution function without procedural rules of governance? The 2012 Utah Republican Convention provides an excellent case study. Although motions were made and votes taken, without a clear set of rules, the delegates found themselves lost and confused. Otherwise civil debates spiraled into childish bickering, and much time was consumed by emotional vitriol.

As a guy who really loves structure (except when I don't!) I can appreciate that.

The universe pretty much runs on rules. We call one of them gravity. If you think about it from a certain angle, it's a horribly oppressive rule. I want to fly places, not walk!

... but then there's the problem of getting down from the stratosphere (actually, there would be no stratosphere). So maybe it's not such a bad rule after all. It's kind of freeing to know that I don't have to worry about jumping out of bed with too much vigor and injuring myself on the ceiling. Rules can be liberating.

 

 

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