Christianity, rules and regulations

Christianity is about freedom, yet we keep tying ourselves up with rules and rituals, and then feeling guilty when we break them.

It seems to be in our nature to want rules.  We want to be told what we can do and what we can’t do.  We don’t want to have to think.  Take driving for example.  We know that we shouldn’t go at high speed in built up areas, so why do we need to be told that we mustn’t go above 30 miles per hour?  What’s special about 30, why not 29, or 33?

Setting a rule is a way of avoiding guilt.  We prefer to pretend that we are not guilty rather than that accept we are guilty and ask for forgiveness.  If I go at 29 miles per hour and knock someone over, then you can’t accuse me of going too fast – I was within the speed limit.  I can say “it wasn’t my fault – it was the person who set the speed limit.”

This is living the Old Testament way: “Thou shalt not exceed 30 miles per hour in a built up zone”.

If we were to ask Jesus then he would say “don’t go so fast that you knock someone over”.  It’s a much tougher requirement, and means that there is no way we can escape our personal responsibility.  If we knock someone over it’s our fault and that’s that.  All we can do is to ask for forgiveness, to which he would reply “Are you really sorry? Are you going to change your driving habits so that you don’t do it again? Yes? Then I forgive you.”

Tougher, isn’t it?  I have to take full responsibility, and I have to be humble enough to admit that I was wrong and to ask for forgiveness.

Christians, as anyone else would, find it difficult trying to live a life which is totally without laws, but where the standard is perfection. There is no speed limit, but you are responsible if your driving harms someone. So we make up our own laws.  Some are moral, some are conventions or traditions.  Although Christianity is about freedom, we have tied ourselves up in chains again.

Everybody does it without realising it.  Have you ever been to a conference or meeting that runs over a couple of days.  On day one, we look round the room, and then choose a seat.  Next day, that’s our seat – we go straight there.  It’s easiest, it worked yesterday, but we’ve just made up a little law: “that’s where I sit”.  It’s OK to make up rules, so long as we don’t let the rule become more important than the issue it’s solving.  We need to keep remembering the reason behind the law.  Going 30 miles an hour in itself is not important; avoiding running someone over is the issue.  Christians need to be wary of our natural love of rules and laws; Jesus looks at the heart; do we want to do what is right or do we want just to keep the law?

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If you enjoyed this and like to read reasoned thinking, buy my book The Big Picture

About Minimalist Christian

Phil Hemsley is a graduate of the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in the UK. He works for a multinational company in the power industry, has presented technical papers at international conferences and holds many patents. He has published two books, the most recent is "The Big Picture, an Honest Examination of God Science and Purpose". He has lived on both sides of the faith fence. He is married, with two daughters.
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