When Rules Hurt Rather Than Help
I find it hard to imagine life without rules. Is there any aspect of our life that doesn’t conform to some set of rules or expectations? When we have some level of assent to a set of rules we experience a level playing field. While the rules we agree to provide a certain level of stability, we also know that it is a delicate balance to manage. Sooner or later, we will encounter someone who will exploit even the best written and objective rules. They will have upset the balance in the community. They will push someone to the margin or take advantage of another’s vulnerability. Over the course of time we discover that institutions and communities can also exploit well meaning rules to the detriment of others. As we have seen through the last two millennia, even in the church the rule of grace can be overcome by the rule of rules.
Where Did We Go Wrong
During his life Jesus made it pretty easy: Love God and love your neighbor as your self. At face value, he couldn’t have made it any simpler. Jesus lived out this ethic in both word and deed. He even went so far as to say that everything the disciples had heard of faith and responsibility went through this commandment. What’s more, Jesus made it clear that the application of loving God and neighbor was to be applied to everything going forward. The disciples were to base their new community firmly within this love. The love they held for God, for each other and even for themselves would be their guiding principle. Through the days of the early church, leaders discovered keeping the community rooted in love was no small effort. As with every community they discovered that it was easier to make rules. The leaders chose expediency.
Reforming the Heart
Tuesday, we will commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the act that began the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther, a German priest, was fed up with the exploitation he saw in the Church. Put simply, Luther sought a discussion with church leaders about the abuses that he observed. The leaders of the church weighed down the people with dogma and rules. The grace and salvation that God had made available to all was usurped by church leaders who used their authority to become the arbiters of God’s grace. Luther stood to spark a renewal of faith and the experience of God’s love and grace. Instead, in the face of stubborn church leadership, a new tradition was born. New communities spun up new rules to be followed and enforced. As we live out our faith today, Jesus still encourages us: rather than reformation of the rules we should first focus on reformed hearts.