All About Skirts, Beer, Money and Church

November 12, 2012

I caught this church’s “Code of Conduct” from Todd Rhoades.phillipsdrive

It’s from a Baptist church in 1982.  Let me give you the highlights of what was expected of leaders.

Leaders were expected to be in attendance at all church functions.  Additionally, they were expected to tithe 10% of their income, and participate in outreach or “soul winning” as the Baptists call it.  Point number four, the largest point in the contract, lays out the “morals” of the church. No alcohol, dancing, movies, card playing, dirty magazines, or pants on women.  That about sums up good Baptist ethics of the early 80s.

The contract really is a blast from the past, not just because it was obviously produced on a typewriter, but because it makes plainly obvious just how much our expectations of church goers have changed.

Would any of this fly at all in your church today?

Attendance

Although this code of conduct is for church leaders, let’s assume that the church had similar requirements for regular members, because they probably did.

I don’t know what you think of it, but I don’t know of any church today that tells its members they must attend, unless “providentially prevented” from doing so.  Couple that with the fact that peoples’ schedules are far more full today with extra-curricular activity.  Church used to be the central social institution of members’ lives.  Now, it’s more like a social accessory in a lot of Christians’ lives.

Give Us Your Money

I have heard many pastors dance around the topic of money.  I’ve heard them talk about how we are “financial creatures,” or people can “choose to participate” by giving money.  I have seen churches take up pledges and go on financial campaigns, but I have never heard a modern church tell people that if they want to belong to the church, they shall give a certain amount of money. It just seems greedy, doesn’t it?

Behave Yourselves, Christians!

And then there’s the whole issue of “morality.”

Near the end of my studies at my Baptist seminary (where we were admonished to not drink, on or off campus), an informal survey in a class showed that most students were actually not teetotalers, and quite a number of us were not actually abstaining while in seminary. While some of the old-timers felt the need to give us the “alcohol talk” (and how Jesus actually turned water into pasteurized grape juice), a generation of Christians has grown up with a taste for beer, even a lot of the Baptists.

Changing Times

A checklist like this illustrates something that should be plainly obvious (but it obviously is not). And that is that every time and culture interprets and applies the gospel in a different way.  A typical Baptist church in 1982 applied the gospel to affect choices about clothing, money, and alcohol.  Rachel Held Evans‘ new book should illustrate that it is in human nature to reshape the meaning of the gospel and how people live under it. (The book has revealed the people who deny this, and insist that there has been one interpretation of “biblical” living for all times and places.)

As a twenty-first century Christian, I find the checklist plainly lacking, because while it talks about skirt lengths and tithing, it makes no mention of working justice and mercy in the community.  It seems painfully obvious to me that rules about skirts and drinking are not actually morality, but are just…well, rules?

You Can’t Tell Me What To Do

Finally, this checklist shines a bright, glaring light on the question, How many of us would submit to a list like this?  Or any checklist for membership?

Really, would you let your church tell you that you must be in attendance, tithe, and stay sober?

How many church’s actually demand requirements of behavior?  My guess is not that many.  Many churches have given up formal “membership” (or even keeping track of their mega-congregations).  A more typical thought from church goers might be what right does a church have to tell me what to do?  We soften demands in order to appear more attractive to “seekers.”

I actually don’t mock this list, for what it is. I admire that the church was important enough to people that they willingly submitted to it.

So, are we a bunch of Christians who refuse to come under authority?  Are we stubborn, selfish, and rebellious?  Do our churches and pastors have the right to demand standards from us?  Or is the church acting as an authority over people a dying relic?

22 responses to All About Skirts, Beer, Money and Church

  1. Good questions! This list brings back memories of a church school I checked out when I was looking for my first teaching job in 1978. They presented me with the same list, including a mandatory 10% tithe (of the offered $6500/yr salary), even though I was already a member of a different church. Even though jobs were very scarce, it wasn’t a hard decision to turn them down. We did get a good laugh at the church’s name: Liberty Baptist Church!

    Sometimes I think the church doesn’t hold us accountable enough, but being required to comply with a legalistic set of rules isn’t the answer. Let’s have lists of “DOs”–do practice mercy, do help the poor, do love your neighbor… and then let God guide each individual regarding the specifics.

  2. It is so much easier for people to have a set of rules, even if we find we can’t really live by such things. Heck, we can’t even keep the simple set of ten rules God gave us. Simple notions like, “treat everyone with love in your heart” is so much less concrete, with those odd shades of grey we can quibble over.

  3. Great comments.

    Of course we need rules to live by in this world, in Christ we are truly free.

    “Christ is the end of the law for all those who have faith.”

    No rules for salvation or justification. Christ did it all on the Cross, without our help.

    But down here, we have and live by rules.

    We have no dress code in our church but some things would surely be out of bounds (profanity on a shirt, or visable underwear, etc.).

    We don’t tithe, because tithing is a calculation…and Christians ought give from the heart.

    We actually drink wine during the worship service, in the Lord’s Supper (we also offer juice for those who cannot drink wine).

    We take our Christian freedom seriously and so we leave it up to folks to decide if they want to see movies, and what movies to see. And that goes for everything else cultural, as well.

    We do take ‘sin’ seriously, however. We believe it IS our condition. And that we are bound in ‘sin’. We live in constant repentance and forgiveness. Knowing that we are helpless against this, and even complicit in it.

    • I think it’s funny that in an age of “giving from the heart” average tithing levels are far below 10% :) Where are our hearts?

      • Exactly Matt. Don’t get me wrong 10% is no litmus test for much of anything. But lets be honest. After 25 plus years in the church, attenders gave less than 2.5% on average (national) income of $40,000 annually. I served in 4 very different communities economically. And in each the giving remained almost exactly the same. When the nation hit the wall a few years back with markets crashing giving went even more south. I think the giving at the last site I pastored averaged 2.3%, and that was the wealthiest community I have served. Again, I am no legalist but the lack of honesty around monetary issues in church is horrible. I like what Stanley Hauerwas says about “membership” in a congregation. In order to be a member you must come to the front of the congregation and tell the congregation exactly how much you make in a year. Again, I think his issue is around the lack of transparency and honesty around monetary matters. There are two secrets going on in many congregations and beyond, the affair we’re having with that other person outside of our covenantal bonds and the affair we’re having with money. And of course none of this really matters if we don’t believe that congregations should be underwritten because their work in local communities is crucial in advancing the Kingdom. If we don’t believe that well I guess tithing and giving is a mute point. It is a shame that “lists” like these exist. What is even more shameful is that it may no longer be clear what a life consecrated to the service of God looks like to those who say they are “following” the Master.

        • Yes – we say we don’t have rules or religion, but “relationship.” But that’s a false dichotomy because every relationship is predicated on numerous rules!

          • Exactly Matt. Relationships, the inter-personal existence we’ve been called to. The matter of “safe” communities/congregations. Too often grace is seen as an entry way to license. The oft quoted comment, “we’re all broken.” Indeed. But if broken means like glass, then my continual shattered existence can truly be harmful to others. The question to ask is what exactly can we anticipate/expect from each other in regard to “safe” communities when it comes to persons who enter who are already at risk because they have been harmed? This has been an issue in regard to my own leadership when others on the leadership team were unable to self check behavior that would and could endanger already broken and hurting persons. Some of those leaders did not see predatory and sexual behavior as “broken glass.” Indeed the issue of “rule/boundaries” are tricky business in a grace/faith community.

      • And the more I think about that, the more I realize that is a false dichotomy too. Who says a couple who disciplined themselves and submitted to a rule to tithe 10% had their heart in the wrong place, while a modern family with no accountability gave 2%, but that’s better because no one told them to?

  4. Even the early Church set some rules, as I am sure you know (Acts 15). I was “raised” in the Church of the Nazarene (started attending at 15), and they still have many similar rules (such as dancing, drinking, smoking, and tithing … at least most of them still have these). My parents and I willingly signed up for membership, even though both of my parents drank and smoked. They quit for the sake of Christ and the church.

    This is also a timely post, as I recently received the calling to start a new church. Scared out of my wits? Yep, but I have learned to trust God enough to follow. We on the leadership team just started discussing what kinds of rules would put in place. Seeing as we occasionally share a drink together before going to the movies, I do not think those are going to be on there!

  5. You make some great points Matt and this subject is somewhat near to my heart. Back in the end of the 70s I attended a Christian college that had a bunch of similar “morality” rules that drove me crazy. I’d come from being one of the most conservative girls in my high school to being an immoral person because I disagreed with their rules. I finally left and finished college at UC where I felt like I had more opportunities to really reach out and minister the gospel. However, even back then I knew that somehow my faith should affect how I live, that I wasn’t called to look just like the world around me. I constantly struggle with where to draw that line. I want us in my local church to reach out to everyone and share God’s love and believe that He will then convict each individual of any sin in their life, yet, if it comes up, I don’t think we should shy away from calling sin what it is (I’m thinking of things that our culture says are OK like sex outside of marriage, co-habitation, living in the pursuit of money and power, etc.) Yet I want anyone who comes into our church or to a home group to feel welcomed, loved, embraced, and accepted right where they are at no matter what they are involved in or how they live. I guess the struggle is good because it makes me look to God in each situation.

  6. I think we’re back to the inherent misunderstanding about the purpose of the church. If church is for believers (i.e., the body of Christ), then I think it’s absolutely appropriate that we say “these are the rules we expect you to live by” and then hold each other accountable to those rules (and the rules will vary from body to body, depending on the needs and understandings of that particular part of the greater body of Christ). Those who don’t comply to the rules should be brought under church discipline, as outlined in Matt 18. Also, the body needs to be constantly vigilant against the rules becoming the god of the church. An example of this sort of thing working is the SHARE food network (non-denominational, at least). Those who partake of the really cheap food are expected to put in at least a few hours worth of work (I think over the course of a year) sorting and passing out boxes to others. I believe that many homeless shelters work in a similar fashion – you want to stay here? You help out around the place. (Which reminds me of something that Paul said – you don’t work? You don’t eat!) You want to be fed by the Spirit as part of our community of believers? Well you can darn well get yourself a little dirty being a _part_ of our community of believers.

    But if we gear our churches toward the _unbeliever_, then such a list of rules is reprehensible – pushing an idea of works-based faith. And our church culture has shifted to such an extent toward being “seeker-sensitive” that being told that there might be a standard that we have to uphold in order to be a part of a _church_ – EVERYONE is supposed to be welcomed there! – this idea is almost seen as criminal.

    I think God called us to have some standards. I think we, as part of the body of Christ, should be holding ourselves and our brothers and sisters to those standards. If a local body of believers wants to set up a list of standards they expect everyone to uphold or face the consequences of finding another place of congregating with people, more power to them.

  7. Every church has rules…usually unpublished!! The longer I live I begin thinking that those old rules weren’t that bad; it saved people from a lot of heartache and disappointment and bad habits. The “freedom” pendulum has certainly swung to the other side. Take drinking: One side poorly interprets the anti drinking verses and the other side poorly interprets the pro drinking verses. I personally get a little tired of the lectures of the more “free” side that looks down on my poor ignorance for not imbibing like I am missing out on something. My habits are developed out of conviction and convictions are not negotiable. Your post reminds us of the tension that we live with.

  8. I like the comments here. As much as we would like to live in absolute freedom being governed only by the Holy Spirit, we don’t. We get distracted by our own desires, pride and selfishness. Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. He did fulfill it so that when we fail, we can receive forgiveness and his righteousness in exchange for our sin. How wonderful!

    Fifteen years ago, I had a problem with church rules, mainly because I didn’t grow up in the church. However, one day, after I had started getting more involved in a church that I liked, I felt God calling me to join the church and become a member. One of the rules involved tithing and another involved submitting to leadership. I balked. But God was adamant and explained to me that submitting to the church leadership means submitting to the people He has placed in authority in that church. It wasn’t easy and still isn’t, but I know that God has grown my faith in Him through that process of trusting even when sometimes it was difficult to trust. And He did prove faithful, removing a leader when the leader started hurting people in the ministry rather than helping them. And God has also been faithful to take care of us financially even when He asked us to give above and beyond for a building campaign.

    We do need rules, if only to know when we have messed up so that we can humble ourselves, repent and seek forgivness, both from God and from the people we have hurt in the process.

  9. “So, are we a bunch of Christians who refuse to come under authority? Are we stubborn, selfish, and rebellious? Do our churches and pastors have the right to demand standards from us? Or is the church acting as an authority over people a dying relic?”

    Yes, yes, yes and yes.

    However, the last one is not because it’s right, but rather because of the first three. People refuse to allow themselves to be under authority and the discipline that comes from it. Personal responsibility means very little. People talk it up, but don’t want to live it when it applies to them.

    It’s weakened the church as a whole and it’s led to many distorting the Bible just to be popular with people who want to do whatever they want and still be able to say they follow Jesus.

  10. I think a group has a right to set rules….basing them on the Bible and calling it fact is another matter

  11. You asked, “Finally, this checklist shines a bright, glaring light on the question, How many of us would submit to a list like this? Or any checklist for membership?”

    I would not submit to a list like that, nor would any self respecting Christian. If there is no Biblical mandate for a rule, as there clearly is none for many of those rules, then no church has any business imposing it on anyone.

    You also asked, “So, are we a bunch of Christians who refuse to come under authority? Are we stubborn, selfish, and rebellious? Do our churches and pastors have the right to demand standards from us? Or is the church acting as an authority over people a dying relic?”

    I liked the questions you raised with your post, but I think you’re making too much of a leap when you jump from that list to questions of being stubborn, selfish, and rebellious. That checklist is presumptuous and invasive with no Biblical warrant, rejecting it dose not involve one in a stubborn, selfish, and rebellious attitude.

    As far as churches and pastors having standards, I think holding to Biblical standards is the only way to do church. But if we’re going to talk in those terms, the pastor and church had better be doing the rest of what the Bible says as well. Such as providing real, edifying teaching, bearing the burdens of our brothers and sisters, and providing for the other needs of the members. It is incorrect to view the disconnect as the fault of the members, problems with the functioning of the church rest on the shoulder’s of the church’s leaders. They want to get in, give their sermon, and get out. No muss no fuss. That’s what I see a lot of.

    Perhaps the better question is, are our pastors stubborn, selfish, and rebellious?

  12. This list would never fly at the church I’m a part of now. I digress. I grew up Baptist in the 80’s and more or less gotten over all of my old hurts from it. But I think you hit the nail on the head when you talked about a skewed view of morality. It’s not what we don’t do that makes us righteous, but rather what we do. Helping the poor. Taking care of widows and orphans. These are the things that God loves.

  13. I went to a Bible college that still holds to a lot of these same rules. We were not allowed to listen to any music with a drum beat or spend longer than 5 minutes talking to a girl, plus many other pointless rules….
    Needless to say, I learned how to act the part of a Christian while learning how to hold my liquor.

  14. I like that it states the expectations of membership. At least the church was brave enough to do that. Most churches wuss out and passive-aggressively have and enforce unstated expectations.

    Every church, hell every group; has expectations. A culture that is established and is active and enforced by the membership. I feel it’s better and braver to state these than not to. Maybe.