These Rules-with-a-capital-R may not appear anywhere in the Bible, but still they were considered important. And anyone breaking those rules wasn’t a proper Christian. Heck, worst case scenario was that Rule Breakers were heretics, fit only to be driven from the community. Or possibly burned at the stake.
No drums, for rhythm is satanic. Or possibly just noisy.
No hymns that didn’t involve Charles Wesley somewhere along the line.
Or a far more abhorrant Rule: for example, ‘No black people allowed in this church’.
Nothing to do with the Bible, of course, but those were the Rules and boy, did people keep them. The problem with keeping Rules, of course, is that Jesus was an almighty Rule Breaker.
There’s a story in Mark’s gospel, where the disciples are criticised by religious leaders for not washing their hands properly before meals. This is a big deal to them, all tied up with notions of purity and clean-verses-unclean, but rather than politely accept their Rules, Jesus lets rip. “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions!” he says, summing up one of his major problems with the religious environment of the time.
To emphasise this he quotes Isaiah, someone else who was speaking at a time when talking the talk was easy but wasn’t backed up by much walking of the walk:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’
And there’s the problem. Rules are created ostensibly to help people follow God but, thanks to legalism and hypocrisy, the Rules can actually take the place of God; one day you wake up and realise you’re not worshipping God, you’ve simply deified the Rulebook, and while your outward actions might look good and righteous, inside your heart is shrivelling.
And after all, if the story of the Bible is effectively the story of God’s relationship with humanity, then anything that presents a barrier to that relationship is going to be a problem. Jesus broke the Rules, yes, not because he didn’t care about following God, but because he knew that truly following God is a matter of the heart, not observances, and therefore the heart needs to be aligned to God’s – that will mean offering love and grace to those around us. That’s why Jesus broke the Rules and talked to outcast women and conniving collaborators and people from a different background who didn’t follow the Rules in the right way.
This is the cause of my twitchiness over the WWJD? thing that was big a few years ago – Jesus did the unpredictable and the scandalous and we need to appreciate that when trying to follow him. And the only way we’ll truly manage that is through relationship, through his Spirit and his grace, because any attempts to follow him without them could end up with us writing another Rulebook.
And guess what? The world doesn’t need another Rulebook.
It needs love.
It needs grace.
Go break some Rules.
(This post was based on this week’s reading for The Big Read 2012 – ‘Expectations’.)