Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Forgotten Commandments

While I was speaking with a friend this weekend, I relayed the reason Rich and I are so opposed to using scriptures to support our own personal standards.

Growing up, we attended a very conservative church that held many of these "extra commandments." Some standards were written—such as:

  • no alcohol (even for medical purposes)
  • no background tapes when singing special music in church
  • all church music must be limited to the songs contained in the church-approved hymnal
  • all church music must be presented the way it was arranged in the church-approved hymnal
  • church music could be played only on non-electric instruments (except the organ, which apparently had a special dispensation)
While there were no verses used to set these standards they were actually written into the church constitution.

However, the unwritten rules were just as important and enforced as the written "commandments." I Corinthians 6:19-20 was used to cover a multitude of (supposed) sins: "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body."

Standards such as:
  • skirts must fall below the knee
  • men's and boy's hair must not touch the eyebrows or the ears and must be tapered in the back so as not to touch the collar
  • no tattoes
  • no piercings
  • no dancing (with anyone including by yourself—some were even reprimanded for tapping their toes during the hymns
  • no coloring of your hair
  • no going to movies or live performances in a theater
  • no listening to contemporary music (even in your own home)
What I often found offensive was that this set of verses was usually employed by obesely overwieght adults. Isn't overeating and becoming obese misuse of the temple of God? Makeup that can be seen was also a big no-no. You could wear make-up, but only if no one could tell that you were wearing any.

I have also found several people that hold firm on a single issue (i.e.,can't let a boy and girl hold hands until after their marriage) have something in their background that they are ashamed of that is related to this issue. One woman I knew watched her daughter, carefully making sure that she wasn't even allowed in a room alone with a boy. Later it came out that the mother became pregnant out of wedlock. Another woman made her toddler wear very long dresses (for modesty's sake) that the daughter had a hard time learning to walk (the toddler kept stepping on the front of the dress). It was discovered later that the married mother was carrying on an affair with a co-worker. Another person I knew required her school-aged child to wear calf length dresses. This child had been born out of wedlock.

I believe these people are truly trying to save others from the same sins and fate that they have experienced. The problem is that many of these people demand this standard from others and often transfer their own past thoughts and actions on others. Maybe, due to embarrassment, don't want others to know what skeletans are in their closet.

Some who have gotten tattooes as young adults later regret them and will now use this as a standard. One person I know is passionately against all alcohol use due to an abusive alcoholic father.

We need to remember the Bible also teaches moderation in all things. Going to see "Meet the Robinsons" at the theater is not the same as seeing an X-rated movie. Our personal policy is that if I wouldn't see it in the privacy of my own home I won't see it in the theater.

Many of these issues are held in higher esteem than the actual commandments. At least they are talked about more. Is this because these folks don't have to convince me the Bible teaches "Thou shall have no other gods before me"—while they do have to convince me that the Bible teaches "Thou shalt not wear a blouse with two buttons unbottoned at the neck." Are we placing these personal crusading issues as gods? Our actions should be an outworking of our relationship with God and not a way to a relationship with God.


CJ said...

What I wonder, is what forms the basis for the need that some
people/religious groups/cultures seem to have to enforce EXTREME
differentation of dress for men and women -- ie, the No-Pants-on
Women&SuperLong-Hair churches, Islam, modern ultra-orthodox Judaism,and ultra-fundamentalist Mormon groups.
The trend towards extreme dress differentation and even segregation
of the sexes is frequently a characteristic of religious extremist groups, and I wonder why. Perhaps individuals might gravitate toward such high-control groups if they are somewhat off-kilter in the male/female department, and have trouble controlling their sexuality
themselves, but that doesn't explain why whole cultures would develop and then continue to display this phenomenon for decades or centuries.

Richard D said...

I believe that these "extra commandments" spring from a form of asceticism. These people are trying to convince themselves that they are worthy of heaven. I think many of them have not accepted God's forgiveness for their specific sins in the past--sins that they are now trying to eradicate in others because of the tremendous guilt they feel.

It is hard for our frail, human minds to grasp the concept that God would save us in spite of our unworthiness.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Anonymous said...

People ARE making these issues into "gods", as you say.

On a certain yahoogroup, a woman wrote in recently asking for prayer, because her 16-year old daughter was rebellious and her husband wouldn't back up her authority when it came to discipline in the home.
It seems that the girl is tired of wearing a fulltime headcovering; in addition, the young lady has a job and is allowed to wear skirts and blouses to work, but at home she is required to wear one-piece dresses; the crux of the matter is that she wants to be allowed to go bareheaded and wear skirts and blouses around the house.
The mother says that she wants to make her daughter quit her job in order to end her "rebellion", but her husband will not support the idea; he also will not back his wife in the headcovering issue, since he feels that full-time headcovering is unnecessary.

The mother writes that she feels as if she might as well just give up on her husband and her daughter saying that "I'm so sick of trying to do what is right, only to have (her husband) go against me." She goes on to say that she wants to take their younger sons and move out, saying that "if (her husband) isn't around all the time I won't have to worry about them going the way of the world as well."


Anonymous said...

Wow, Im not sure what to say but that the last year and a half my husband and I have been discussing these issues. You know your so right on with what you said- Amen sister for speaking the truth on a tough issue. You have spoken in love and truth. i thank you.

I grew up in a church very similar to what you mentioned. They are a very faithful church of god with a pastor that truly loves His sheep. I sadly fell prey to my own sins of wanting to achieve a holier then thou" reputation". I take full responsibility before God for this sin of pride. perhaps being young and wanting to be accepted by mature christians those "extra Rules" didn't help me and perhaps fed my pride in part by how how easy it was to follow all those "Rules" outwardly. Following God from the heart isn't easy we must die to self. God wants heart obediance first and formost. God's people should except us no matter what "Posistion" we have in a church.

Our pastors are open for some changes but there are about half of our congregation or more that want to remain piano only. I repect this descission but I pray that eprhaps one day they'll consider that we are all christians growing at God's pace. Some of us would love to praise god in worship holding hands up to him without feeling held back by what 'others" might think (maybe that we are changing our convictions about things) and praising Him with a couple other instruments.

I hope I have not said anything that wasn't out of love, but i hope if someone else reads this they be heart careful with following "Extra rule" and be of a barian spirit to search our scripture and know our bibles to search for ourselves what god has to say about those extra things. If it isn't clear before becomming a member really talk to your pastor about whats expected and why on those issues because they can be important especially as we grow and change through our spiritual walk hopefully more unto christ.

Thank you for this enlightening post, it hits home for me.

Sharon said...

You said it so well. I can't believe that you went to a church like that, it seems so radical and so judgemental. I guess they wouldn't want me there, it is too bad too because I have accepted Jesus in my heart and I try to live for him every day. I went to a church that was more relaxed than that, but there were similarities. Attitudes such as if you smoke you probably are not a Christian, etc. I think judging is such a dangerous web to weave...someone might one day just get trapped in their own judgements!

I truly wish you and your family a very happy Easter!

Blessings, Sharon

Corrie said...

Great post! I loved the part about wearing make-up but making it look like we aren't wearing make-up! LOL

My friend and I used to do that and we would giggle ourselves silly before going to "meetings". This was during our "plain" phase. We would get out the Bonnie Bell lipgloss and the clear mascara and we would apply make-up to make it look like we weren't wearing any!

Who were we fooling? Certainly not God!

We have to constantly fight that fleshly desire to make rules where God does not make any rules.

It is so much easier to live by a set of rules and doing family the way it is outlined in some book. But, each family is so different and each couple is so very different and it gets frustrating trying to be like someone else!

We must return to our first Love and do the deeds we did at first. We, the Church, have lost our first Love.

I am now able to appreciate people who are so very different from me without constantly measuring them with the invisible 'standard stick' I used to carry around. Oh, I didn't do it consciously all the time but when I did examine myself, I did see that I was constantly seeing things and how those things lined up with the paradigm I had chosen to follow.

Kim said...

Each family is different is so right. I learned this very early in my marriage-My mother wanted to ask her mother not to treat my grandfather so much as a child. I explained that after more than 55 years of wedded bliss that is what worked for them, so to leave it alone. My grandfather as a child was sent to live with another woman to raise him since his family had too many children. He was never adopted and he never speaks about that time in his life. So I believe my grandmother has lovingly cared for him in the way he needed. My grandparents have now been married for over 70 years- it ain't broke so don't fix it. In the three generations of my family none of our marriages has worked like the previous generation, is any of these ways wrong- no since all are lasting and loving relationships that work for each couple.
I often think that perhaps we as sinners put so much energy into following man made rules because we find it hard to accept God's unconditional forgiveness. We find it hard to forgive others and ourselves. So we make up these ways to earn His forgiveness, when all we had to do is acknowledge our sin and accept His forgiveness and nothing else. Just a thought.