Rules setting the table for the freedom and flexibility of faith

The last posting ends with questions that were intended to get you wondering about the relationship between growing up generally, and growing mature spiritually, and church. What follows are some of my thoughts in answer to the questions.

I wonder if sometimes in the church we miss the point that rules and rituals and traditions are there to help us have a safe space to grow up in, but then we forget to grow up. Scripture seems to pretty clearly point out in the words of Jesus and Paul that rules rituals and traditions are there to help us grow in faith. They are not the end, but a necessary step in getting to that end – faith in God through Christ. It’s as if the Old Testament (OT) is spiritual childhood, and the New Testament (NT) is a stage of starting to mature in faith. But only if you understand the NT can you see how the OT is necessary but needs to be moved on from.

If my theory is correct — and we are in general in the CRC stuck in the rules instead of growing in faith — then we will find ourselves clinging to ‘security blankets’ and ritualistic comforts that we are supposed to have grown out of, similar to our childhood thumb sucking. Or we will stay away from the lawnmower forever instead of ever learning to work with it. To give specifics, we might get upset if a page we are used to hearing gets skipped in church, if worship is not made exciting enough for our liking, or if the words of the Lord’s Prayer change, or if the order of things is not the way we are used to. (you can add your own examples) These, if I am on track with my theory, would all be signs of being stuck in law, stuck in rules ritual and tradition being the end in themselves rather than a starting point for growing in faith. A full grown faith, it seems to me, would have some flexibility to it. Now, remember this is just a theory, and it is an operating theory. I will change it if I find another explanation for this problem of lack of flexibility and being tied to rules rituals and traditions in the church.

If we have this fixed-ness, we will be or become a church filled with people who are stuck in legalism combined with following ‘rules taught by men’ (See Matt 15:9, Mark 7:7, Col 2:22).  It is difficult for the Kingdom of God to be advanced by a people stuck in slavery to law.

Notice that seeing rules rituals and tradition as a starting point for growth and maturity never does away with them. It sees them as necessary, but they are not an end in themselves. Interestingly, Jesus seemed to have detractors who thought that he was doing away with rules rituals and tradition. Here’s how Jesus spoke of that:

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Matt 5:17,18

What Jesus found was sometimes a ridiculous focus on following rules rituals and traditions of law to an near obsessive degree, yet the people doing that were missing out on the meaning and purpose of the rules rituals and traditions. Some of his strongest words spoken were warnings or ‘woes’ about such behaviour:

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. — Matt 23:23

Rules, rituals and traditions, along with law, cannot save us. Paul makes that abundantly clear in Romans 3.

20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  Romans 3:20-22

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, Romans 3:27-29

31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. Romans 3:31

Here is where it might be best to wait to start another post, and really, I’m also not sure  how to describe how this works, this teaching that rules ritual and tradition are needed but also need to be moved beyond, in faith, and as Paul just said, faith apart from law or rules rituals and traditions are the main thing.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Fred Lozeman
    Nov 25, 2013 @ 19:56:08

    As we mature in Christ, at what point do these rituals become a crutch? It seems that when we are younger, we don’t recognize much value in them and even consider these traditions and rituals boring and irrevelant. Later on, when Christ becomes our savior, we tolerate these traditions. Over time, they slowly become familiar and then too difficult to dismiss. How does that happen? Is it just repetition, or is it a natural response as we age?


    • pastorpete
      Nov 25, 2013 @ 20:41:01

      Fred, my initial thought on reading your comment goes like this:
      if we are taught the rituals by people who are using them as a crutch already, or doing them only legalistically, or by people who see them as only filled with head-meaning, it will not likely enthuse us as kids or young people.
      For me, since the point at around age 30 where I came to understand the gospel message behind and under these rituals, they have unlimited meaning and possibilities for creative practice. And, if I’m excited by the meaning and the richness of the ritualistic ways we can present that meaning, I’m hoping today’s youth are not turned off and tuned out like I was in my day. I hope the enthusiasm comes through.
      For instance, we are talking about possibly doing a Passover Lords Supper for Good Friday coming up, and I get real excited about that ritual, because it deepens the history and experience of Lord’s supper as we today observe it.
      These rituals should never become too familiar, ever! If that happens, we should be examining ourselves!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: