Rules: Good, but not sufficient
In his book Falling Upward, Richard Rohr argues that rules are necessary for giving us the boundaries within which we develop self-control. Ultimately, however, the goal is not to be a rule follower, but actually to give up the control of our lives to another. We learn to live within constraints, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Pretty deep stuff.
Schools and rules go together like scribes and Pharisees. Jesus himself is in favor of rules: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets…. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18).
Who in scripture is famous for rule following? The Pharisees and the teachers of the law, of course! “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). So following and enforcing rules is good, but apparently not sufficient to make this world more like God intended it to be. There is something more involved in establishing and proclaiming the kingdom of God in the here and now.
Rules: Their greater purpose
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former” (Matthew 23:23). So what is it that is more important than simply following the rules?
Jesus calls it justice, mercy, and faithfulness, also glorifying God and blessing (loving) our neighbor. According to Jesus, it turns out that the greater purpose of rule following needs to be glorifying God and blessing others. Rules need to be followed and enforced in light of their greater purpose. “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law…” Always, we need to remember that rules do not exist for their own sake.
School policies in light of having become a cultural minority
While the above obviously applies to our own internal discipline policies, those are not my only—or even main—concern. Like many other Christian institutions, my school recently revised its policies regarding same-sex marriage and LGBT issues. Without getting into details, we have adopted policies that severely restrict our relationships to potential clients and attempt to protect our rights regarding whom we serve.
I would like to examine this issue in light of two important facts. First, Christians have become a minority in our culture. While in the past we might have depended on rights afforded to the majority, this is no longer the case. How can we as Christian schools best position ourselves to make a difference in our culture when operating from a cultural minority position? In many ways, our new cultural standing is like that of the early church. Our fellow believers from the first century looked for ways to minister to those with whom they had theological and moral disagreements, and they went on to change the world.
Secondly, in Matthew 16, Jesus takes his disciples on a long journey to a center of pagan culture in Caesarea Philippi, where he boldly proclaims that the gates of Hades will not prevail against the message of the church. Jesus says that his message, his methods will transform society. His was most certainly a minority movement! He had no majority rights on which to depend or in which to put his trust.
In my opinion, our school policies should allow for the greater purposes of glorifying God and blessing our neighbor. Have our reactions to the same-sex marriage issues led us to trust in our legal rights to such an extent that we have forgotten to reach out with sacrificial love to those with whom we may disagree? I believe that we can use our legal protections without depending on them or putting our faith and trust in them.
When establishing or enforcing rules and policies, I encourage all of us to proceed with biblical wisdom, Spirit-led courage, Christ-like perseverance, and most importantly, the compassion of our Lord Jesus, especially when ministering to those with whom we have disagreements. In my opinion, there is no institution better equipped to proclaim the kingdom of God than Christian education. Remember, with our Messiah’s message and methods, the gates of Hades will not prevail against our efforts to transform culture.
– Bart Den Boer, worldview specialist