Friday, March 21, 2014

A Penchant for Rules

by Thomas Cross

As I drive to the gym or run errands in the late afternoon, I often tune in to sports talk radio. My favorite later-afternoon hosts are Dave and Dave on KOA and Big Al and D-Mac on The Fan. One thing I’ve noticed in recent weeks while listening is that there is a sure-fire way to get people to call in and express their opinions. Just do a segment in which people can propose rule changes to one of the big-time pro or NCAA sports leagues.

Both shows have done these segments recently, and they absolutely get flooded with calls. And it is clear that callers have given deep consideration to their proposed rules! One suggestion called into The Fan was so complex that neither I nor the hosts could understand the proposed change. Clearly this man had downloaded and studied the NFL rulebook; I don’t know what could be more interesting. One thing is sure: If you want to get people excited, talk about rules.

These discussions have led me to an observation about human nature: We human beings love rules! I’m especially fond of the rules I get to make. And, of course, the best scenario of all is to impose rules on other people that you don’t have to follow yourself (in other words, to be elected to Congress!).

It is fortunate, in my opinion, that many people obsessed with rules have directed their energies away from the church and into sports and politics instead. But not before leaving their mark! The United Methodist rulebook, The Book of Discipline, is 781 pages, rivaling the Bible in its length (it does not rival the Bible for stimulation, however). This is despite the fact that John Wesley founded the Methodist movement upon three simple rules.

As you may remember, Jesus boiled down the 613 commandments of Moses into three: Love God with total devotion, love your neighbor as yourself, and proclaim the good news of the Gospel and Kingdom as you go. Wesley based his three General Rules on the teachings of Jesus, but prefaced them with the implicit command to “first, do no harm.” This is surely part of what it means to love your neighbor, but Wesley thought it wise to spell it out with clearly. I’m not loving my neighbors if I’m harming them. Wesley interpreted loving neighbors in terms of doing good to them: “Do all the good you can” at every opportunity. Finally, express your love and devotion to God by practicing spiritual disciplines that will keep you close to God. As Jesus says, stay connected to the Vine.

Jesus’ distaste for rules caused him to be despised and rejected by the rule-makers of his time, the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin. Wesley’s simplified approach opened Christianity to people of all backgrounds and classes, divorcing the essential Christian life from social protocols. Yet our temptation to revert to rule-making is as strong as Adam and Eve’s temptation to eat the forbidden fruit. We are tempted to get right and wrong down on paper and make determinations and judgments. Yet as Joan Jellison so eloquently said in the Disciples Group, “Our job isn’t to judge; it’s to love one another.” Our job is also to let the Holy Spirit guide us to do the right thing as we make our daily decisions. As David says in Psalm 23:3, “He guides me in the paths of righteousness [tsedeq, doing the right thing].”

When we fail, we have Paul’s reminder that the “free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the One Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many” (Romans 5:15). Yes, to err is human. To make rules is human as well. To find your sufficiency in Christ and his grace is divine.         


Thomas Cross is one of the pastors at BUMC, starting his seventh year here.  He loves to help people grow in Christ and start new small groups.  He says his passion is ‘to introduce people to the God I know through Jesus Christ, the God who is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.’  He enjoys hiking, reading, cooking, going to movies, working out, collecting art, listening to jazz music, and watching the Broncos for fun.  And he has a blast meeting with the diverse small groups he facilitates!  

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