Relationship with God, not rules, define Christianity

Rev. David Wilson Rogers

In so many ways, the church has done itself – and Jesus Christ – a grave disfavor.

Somewhere along the line, we took Jesus out of our faith and replaced him with a set of rules, doctrines, and rigid definitions of what fidelity to Christ looks like.

On one level, a distinct framework of fidelity to the Gospel serves a very valuable purpose in the life of a believer. “Do this, and don’t do that,” are simple ways of defining what behaviors, attitudes, and actions are acceptable for a Christian. Likewise, formal and informal means of defining who is in and who is not, are ways that the Church is able to maintain its authenticity. These practices may vary across different church traditions and theological understandings. They are also evident in some way or another in virtually every expression of Christianity. To put it simply, Christianity is not—nor has it ever been—an “anything goes” religion.

The problem comes when the rules, guidelines, structures, and entrance rites overshadow the heart of the faith. Jesus was fierce about this when he railed against the religious rules of his day, calling them hypocrites and the brood of vipers. His actions were in response to a religious legalism that measured a person by their ability to conform to the prescribed norm, make the proper sacrifices, and adhere to the proper rules of fidelity. The Apostle Paul built on Jesus’ criticism when he insisted that those within the church who were insisting on fierce legalism and adherence to the law were missing the point. Finally, James illustrates the reality by reminding believers that it is their faith, not their works, that matters to God.

Paul writes in Romans 12, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” For Paul, this embodies a genuine faith.