Who Makes the Rules?

A frustration that many good people have with religion is the fact that so many religious leaders want to enforce rules that are not in Scripture. This is a valid frustration, and unfortunately, making our own rules is a very common tendency among religious people, and always has been. Even groups who adamantly oppose human rule making sometimes begin to slip, thinking that "Well, we know this isn't in the Bible, but in this case we really do need to make everyone do it this way" - and suddenly they're on the other side of the fence. Se we have churches making rules that none of the members may consume anything with caffeine. Or anyone assisting with the Sunday communion has to be wearing a coat and tie.

The Pharisees of Jesus' day were saturated with this desire to enforce rules where God had left things more open than they preferred. Sabbath law is a good example. In the Old Testament (Exodus 20:8-10), God had commanded Israel concerning Saturdays:

"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work..."

Well, what constitutes work? That was a question that every Israelite had to satisfy for themselves, using their own judgment – although they would certainly need to use good judgment. Does planting seed constitute work? Does harvesting grain or binding the sheaves constitute work? Any good judgment recognizes that these are work.

But what about simply carrying something home on the sabbath? Was that work? God did not specify such things, He had simply said not to "work" on that day. And here is where the human tendency to introduce our own rules comes in. We think the Law should address things more specifically. So we make our judgments about what is proper, and we become confident in them, and since we know our conclusions, we think everyone else must come to the same conclusions – so we make rules. And we enforce them.

Jesus condemned the Pharisees for doing this very thing.

The Pharisees made a rule that it was wrong to heal someone on the Sabbath ("It's work!"). Jesus said they were wrong to make such a rule (Matthew 12:10-14). The Pharisees made a rule that it was wrong to carry something home on the sabbath ("It's work!"), but Jesus did not accept their rule (John 5:5-11). The Pharisees even went so far as to say that walking some distance was work, and put a limit on how far the Jews could walk on the sabbath. In their continued history, they said that it was sinful to spit on the sabbath, because when the spit hits the ground it might move some of the soil, and that's like plowing, and plowing is work! "So if you spit on the sabbath, you can't be part of our worship!!"

Jesus condemned all this kind of rule-making on the part of the Pharisees! In Mark 7:6-7, Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah to condemn them, saying:

Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites rightly, as it is written, "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. They worship Me in vain, teaching the precepts of men as doctrines."

When we take our own ideas, and turn them into doctrine that must be obeyed and enforced, we earn that same condemnation, and our worship is vain.

So, who makes the rules at the Park Road church? The Lord does. The apostle Paul said that the Father put all things under the feet of Christ, "and gave Him as head over all things to the church." When we see scripture making something clear, we strive to obey it, and others should obey it as well. If some won't, then it becomes difficult for us to have fellowship with those. On the other hand, if it is not clear, if it is merely something that we have thought might be a good way to do things, we strive to leave room for others in the church to reach a different conclusion. We don't want to enforce things that aren't enforced by Scripture.

Have we perfectly fit ourselves to these principles? That's a hard question. But it is our goal to do so.