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