Thursday, April 30, 2015

Church Rules

Church girls
My dad is a Minister of Music. For those who are unfamiliar, that means my dad is sort of a combo preacher/musician/choir director/pastor. So for most of my childhood, my dad didn't take his talents to South Beach; he took them (along with his family) to Pentecostal (specifically C.O.G.I.C.) churches that hosted  three-hour services on Sunday morning, a brief intermission for a much needed meal, then a follow up evening service. There were also weekly choir practices my dad led, Bible studies and something on Fridays called Joy Night. I imagine some adults found joy there, but I can't say I shared that emotion. 

As a teenager, my mother volunteered my services as Baptist Sunday School secretary; in college, I was tasked with enticing students to come to the local AME church with promises of home cooked soul food on their ride back to campus. 

As an adult, I've been a choir member at a Baptist church, social media coordinator at a non-denominational church, and at the church I currently attend, I interned, led a couple Bible studies, and I (happily!) serve on a few teams. 

If anybody loves, respects and understands the value of the church community, I am your girl. No matter where I lived or worked or learned, my tie to the church has been a constant and I am forever grateful.

Another constant has been the unwritten but oft-spoken "rules" provided by what I lovingly call "church folk." When I was younger, I blindly accepted them. Most of them were harmless anyway. (Bow your head during prayer in reverence, men should take off their hat inside the church... and so forth.) I often assumed that church rules were also Biblical rules. 

But the older I get and the more I study the Word for myself (which I highly recommend), the more I realized many of these rules are steeped in tradition, not divine instruction from the Lord himself. 

I think it is fair to argue that the thickest section of the unwritten Church Rule Book is the Relationships chapter. I am often confused or amused by the rules/strongly suggested guidelines I hear from my church family. Here’s an example:

After a few months of planning, my boyfriend and I visited my brother in Hawaii for several days – a vacation/meet & greet. The night prior to my departure, a friend texted me. 
Her: So who are you going to Hawaii with?
Me: Who do you think silly? I'm going with my guy. Who else I would I go with?
Her: That's like a honeymoon. You guys are gonna have nothing left to do after the wedding. 

I was dumbfounded. It had never occurred to me that vacations were reserved for husband and wife. I've gone on vacations with family, girlfriends, coed groups, people that are almost strangers, with only my mother protesting that I'd end up on a milk carton, but a vacation with the one you love most was an issue. While I was still processing this text, I tapped back jokingly, "Nah my honeymoon will require a passport" and left it at that.

But it made me wonder... in a time where we choose our spouses based on love and compatibility, not someone our parents picked out for us at 13 a la Biblical times, what behaviors are taboo for unmarried couples? 

While I don't believe all parts of a relationship need to be "Try Before You Buy" (to keep this post PG, I'll let you all figure out what I mean here), I do believe it's important for people to get a good sense of how their prospective spouse deals with adversity, how they handle their finances, their levels of domesticity, and many other variables that you really just don't know until you spend a lot of time around them. What ticks them off? What is their kryptonite? How do they juggle career, family, their faith, friendships and other priorities?

Obviously, there's no way to do a true trial run. You're not married until you're married.  Kids, the loss of a parent, the relearning each others bodies post child birth and age, sharing of bills, sacrificing for careers and so forth… these are all challenges and joys most likely reserved for married couples. But I believe people are endowed with sound minds (So does the guy who wrote 2 Timothy 1:7).  If we want to honor God with a lifelong marriage, using God-gifted discernment to avoid throwing rice at a doomed union makes practical (and Biblical) sense.

A few other rules I’m not convinced are based in Biblical doctrine:
1.    Don’t go on a formal date with a prospective spouse until you’ve seen each other in group settings and had a preliminary coffee date.
2.    Save domestic activities such as grocery shopping for life post nuptials.
3.    Support of civil rights like marriage equality for same sex couples is akin to endorsing homosexuality and must be avoided. Active viewership of shows like Modern Family can be interpreted as an embracing of homosexuality and is bad.
4.     Attending the wedding of same sex couples --friends and family alike-- is an absolute no-no. 

Proverbs 19:20 advises us to “hear counsel and listen to direction that you may be wise” and I have been fortunate beyond measure to have friends and mentors who love Jesus and who love me too.

They manage to hold me accountable without passing judgment, they push me to grow in my faith (and my career and relationships too). I do believe they are iron that sharpens iron. They are often the same folks who give me “Church Rules” but more often than not, they advise me to go directly to the source to learn how to best live my life for Christ.

They know that wise counsel is still a step removed from the ultimate Counselor, Jesus Christ.

Every church I’ve been a member of, particularly the one I am a member of now, has helped to improve my faith, provided lifelong friendships, and most recently, it has been the place that introduced me to the man I love. Ironically, church consistently reminds me that their rules aren’t the ones that matter. God’s rules are.

Think about the things you’ve been taught to do in your church or by believers, and consider if they reflect what Christ wants for you, or just something that’s always been done. Are there any rules you’re unsure on? I’d love to hear them. My former pastor always says “If you read your Bible, you’ll be a better Christian.” It sounds a bit like cliched rhetoric, but it’s true. Are your rules in the Bible?