Culture At Large

Rules made to be broken?

Andy Rau

Interesting post at Out of Ur on the topic of "holiness rules" for clergy. The post author calls into question the lifestyle rules to which some denominations hold their clergy--rules like No Drinking, No Smoking, etc. Do such rules encourage personal holiness, or are they trying to address spiritual problems with over-simplistic legalism? From the post:

If we prohibit certain behaviors for pastoral ministry, are we not really revealing the fear that we lack the mature character for ministry in the first place? If drunkenness and chemical addiction is what we fear, why not name drunkenness and addiction as the symptoms that require discernment? By totally prohibiting alcohol and tobacco we are not really dealing with the issue of whether our clergy has mature character. We are just providing conditions to displace the lack of character (if it exists) to some other object that is safer, i.e. from tobacco or alcohol to food.

My own denomination is, I think, pretty lenient as far as such rules go. (Although if any Christian Reformed ministers reading this have experienced otherwise, feel free to correct me in the comment section below.) I remember debating with friends, way back in my college days, about the extent to which a Christian college should set behavioral rules for its students. Could the sin of worldliness, for example, be effectively confronted by simply prohibiting students from seeing movies? And was it fair to restrict the liberty of some Christians out of respect for fellow believers who might take offense, as in Paul's famous "food sacrificed to idols" admonition?

College students are in a completely different category than ordained clergy, I realize, but the core question is the same: what role should behavioral rules play in Christian society? Are they an important means of promoting holiness and communal harmony, or are they just old-fashioned relics that need to be jettisoned in the name of spiritual liberty?

What do you think? If you're a minister who is expected to adhere to a specific behavioral standard, I'd be especially interested in hearing about your experience following--or chafing against--your denomination's "rules."

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, The Church