One of the most appealing aspects of Christianity is that there aren’t a bunch of rules to follow. We follow Jesus (who, according to the Pharisees, was a rule breaker himself). We live by the Spirit and attempt to go where the Lord leads us.
That’s not to say it’s easy. It, in fact, can be extremely hard. As a matter of fact, it can be so difficult that there are a lot of Christians who would rather follow some rules—and so they do.
As a result, we give the impression that everyone has to live up to our standards (whatever those might be). Unfortunately, wherever one goes, it seems like the standards are different. The congregation up the street probably emphasizes far different values than yours. It’s confusing enough for churchgoers. Imagine what it must be like for interested non-believers.
Consequently, a lot of people get the idea that they can join the church someday if they can just become good enough. If they can just follow the right rules, they’ll have it made in the shade. If they can be better than the bad guys (whoever they are), they’ll earn a citizenship in the Kingdom.
“Most Christians will deny this.”
The funny thing is, it doesn’t matter what kind of congregation you step into. It can be liberal, conservative, evangelical, liturgical, full of social justice seekers, or staunch peacemakers. We all have our own little rules to follow and specific values to uphold. We all think ours are the correct ones. Therefore, many of us frown on those who don’t share our way of thinking, acting, and living out the Gospel.
Most Christians will deny this, but their actions belie their words. The reason we deny it is because we know it’s wrong. Still, we get royally annoyed when others who call themselves Christian don’t see things our way.
With all these “do’s, don’ts, have-to’s, and gotta’s,” it’s no wonder why the church is losing ground. Statistics today show that there are at least as many Christians who avoid the organized church as there are who actually attend and belong. It sounds kind of crazy, but it’s true.
Think about it. How many times have you felt like leaving the congregation to which you belong because of some ridiculous rule (stated or unstated)? People expected you to live a certain way. You didn’t care to do so, and you couldn’t find it in the Bible. You stayed because you were strong enough to ignore their attitude (or maybe you just figured you could outlast them).
The sad, sad story is this. For every one of you who stayed, there was one who left. It’s a tale told over and over again. It’s almost laughable.
Trying to follow the do’s, don’ts, have-to’s, and gotta’s has a name. It’s called legalism. Sadly, some of the best Christians I know fall into that trap. It’s easily done. I know, because I’ve done it too. I think it’s time to stop and reevaluate. It can’t hurt.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently pastor of Smith Chapel in Great Falls, VA.]