This question is a loaded bomb. I love it and I hate it all at the same time. Like so many other things in the world of the Christian Church, there are many layers to the “rules” that people associate with the Church. For the sake of giggles and conversation, I did an interesting experiment: Google. Literally, I searched for the rules of the Christian Church. I wanted to vomit. Instantaneously. All of these things were listed in articles and writings on the rules:
- Never allow someone to embarrass your morality, your essence, your innocence.
- A man has the right to lead his woman in life.
- Look casual and modest but attractive enough.
- To come to church you should wear clean and appropriate clothing, as required by the holiness of the place. Women should exercise Christian modesty and decency.
- To derive spiritual profit from going to church, it is very important to put yourself into a prayerful mood on the way to church.
- Read your Bible daily.
- Be a wholesome Christian. Our lives and appearance should commend the Gospel and make it attractive to others.
What I want to do at this point is give you a sarcastic commentary on all of the above. It is actually taking all of my restraint not to be a complete jerk, cause you know I could. Let’s try and talk about this without the attitude. Of course, people that think in terms of rules and black and white-ly defined circles will always fall on the more extreme ends of this conversation. But, can we just be really honest? These rules exist because these people exist. Even in some very openminded, thinking and searching spaces, you will find these rules. People with this approach to faith can be found in most Christian circles today. The core of these rules are valuable to many modern Christians and that single fact is the reason that so many of us look at the Church today with, on our best days, irreverence and on our worst days, disdain.
The saddest part of this entire conversation is that the rules, the tools by which the Church would like to help define people of faith, are the very things that push people away from the possibility of connection. In my years of stumbling around the heart of the Church, I have found the ability (or maybe I should say stubbornness) to ignore most of the rhetoric. I have worked hard to define for myself ways to hear the words to the rules and reshape them to fit the heart of the God that I understand. Let me give you an example.
Most of us that were brought up in the last 30 years of Church culture have been taught to believe that the tangled web of purity and chastity are some of the most tightly held rules of the Church.
“Purity culture” is the term often used for the evangelical movement that attempts to promote a biblical view of purity (1 Thess. 4:3-8) by discouraging dating and promoting virginity before marriage, often through the use of tools such as purity pledges, symbols such as purity rings, and events such as purity balls.”https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/faqs-know-purity-culture/
Not only did I come of age at the beginning of the purity culture, with so many confusing and convoluted messages, but I was a youth pastor in the height of the movement. To say that every area of my faith was impacted by the rules of sexual behavior is an absolute understatement. I wore the ring. I grieved the mistakes. I tried to define “good” and “boundaries” to gain approval from a rule imposing God. I drank the Kool-aid. What happened over the last 30 years of my life is an excavation project of the soul. As I began to look at the bizarre (and ridiculous) tools by which we tried to teach love and fulfillment, I have come to understand that we failed. In every way.
But, here is the interesting thing about purity culture. It did not come into existence in a vacuum. Like every other “rule” of the church, it was a reaction to something that no one knew how to put in a box. In the 90’s, the children of the 60’s came of age. For many of our parents, finding a way to prevent unplanned pregnancies and protect us from the AIDS epidemic somehow morphed into a bizarre attempt to develop rules to ground a “biblical” understanding of sexuality. Do you remember our conversation about the mess that we make of the church? Yep. Exhibit A.
So, are the rules outdated? I’m not sure that’s the right question. I think the better question is What If: The Church Didn’t Have Rules? I think human rules are some of the greatest mistakes of the modern church. What if rather than making rules and trying to tell people how and what to do, we used that energy to listen – to people and more importantly to the Spirit? Behind the rules are always attempts to avoid pain, misguided as they may be. I wonder what would change if instead of telling others how to do things or how to be, we instead placed before them the desired end goal? Instead of giving me rules and shame to define sexuality, what would have happened if a trusted adult had instead said, “Lacy, I want you to be whole. I want every part of you, even your physical body to be deeply connected to the heartbeat of God. What feels whole to you?”
I’m guessing I would have spent much less on therapy. Just saying.