Ask most Believers and nonbelievers alike and they’ll both probably tell you that being a Christian requires that you follow a lot of rules. Depending on the denomination, you may run into rules governing what you wear, what you eat, where you live, how much technology you can use, etc… In many of these cases, the rules may just represent a minor inconvenience. In others, the rules may be dangerous. Recently, a couple, Seth Welch and Tatiana Fusari, found out they would be going to trial for murder because they allowed their 10 month old baby to die. Their defense is that they were following their religious beliefs. Apparently, their Christian pastor told them that going to the doctor was wrong. Who told him that? It certainly isn’t Biblical.
As Believers we are to seek knowledge about God, but we have to be careful how we obtain such knowledge. We can be educated and we can also be indoctrinated. Education can be defined as the process of giving or receiving systematic instruction. Indoctrination can be defined as the process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs without criticism. We go to church services, bible studies, and Sunday schools to be educated, but often we come away indoctrinated. We believe we’re being taught about God, his will, and his way. Instead, we’re often taught what a person or group of people want us to believe about God, his will, and his way and then also taught that we shouldn’t question what we’re told. After all, the preachers, pastors, deacons, and church leaders have authority given by God and should be obeyed.
This isn’t new. In fact, Jesus had to deal with it constantly. The Pharisees were also spiritual leaders who believed they couldn’t be questioned or challenged. The Pharisees cared about maintaining the status quo and the cultural rules in place, and they convinced the people that God also cared about that. In one instance, they challenged Jesus over the disciples not washing their hands before eating. Jesus responded to them by invoking Isaiah. From Matthew 15:
7You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:8“ These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.9They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules. ”
Jesus called them hypocrites for what they were doing and chastised them harshly. They claimed to be following God, but were just adhereing to human convention. We see the same thing today, and we should avoid it because we risk turning the Bible into a tool to push our on agendas. Take “curse words” as an example. We know many Believers and non-believers find certain words to be offensive, but the Bible doesn’t define any specific words as profane. That distinction was made by humans. Colossians 3:8 is one scripture that addresses the subject:
But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
It doesn’t identify particular words as bad. It speaks about the spirit and purpose behind what people say. Don’t we all know Christians that turn up their noses when they hear someone using curse words, but have no problem themselves using non-curse words to disrespect and disparage their fellow people?. That is exactly the hypocrisy Jesus spoke about. If we’re truly educated about what the Bible says, we’d understand that we need to put care into the things we say regardless of what words are used. After all, Colossians 4:6 tells us:
Let your conversation be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
However, hypocrisy is not the only problem here. Indoctrination can also make it difficult for people to come to know and follow God. Paul ran into this problem in the Bible. His mission was primarily to bring Gentiles into the Faith, but he constantly encountered Jews that insisted that Gentiles adopt Jewish customs like circumcision even after it was made clear that God did not expect that. In fact, it was bad enough that he had to take the matter to the Apostles, and Peter addressed the matter as such:
7After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” – Acts 15:7-11
Peter specifically rejects putting extra rules on people being brought into the Faith. It is by grace that we are saved not unnecessary rules. Consider alcohol consumption. How many Christians have said that drinking is sinful? That’s not Biblical law; it’s a manmade rule. The Bible instructs us to avoid drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18), and it’s true that the best way to avoid getting drunk is to avoid drinking alcohol. It is certainly reasonable for Believers to advise abstinence from alcohol especially in cases where addiction or poor decision making is a factor. However, providing such guidance is different from telling people that the Bible or God says not to drink. Of course we want to help those who struggle with alcoholism or anything else that could be detrimental to them, but we don’t want to prevent people from coming to Christ by making them feel sinful for something that isn’t inherently a sin, such as having a can of beer after work or a glass of wine at dinner.
We need to break our indoctrination and seek education. One way we can do that is by seeking instruction from those who teach from the Bible and not their own opinions. We all have access to the Bible though, so ultimately we should all strive to read the Bible ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit to provide the insight we need. We also need to be careful when we reach out to others. We must be sure to educate and not indoctrinate. God already provided his expectations in his Word. We can’t improve on it, so let’s share it the way he intended.