[ skip to navigation ]
The House Church Network: Dedicated to Kingdom Expansion
Why Does the Church Add Rules to the Bible?

This week's question comes from the Internet and deals with the question of "man-made" rules. "Why do men make rules and restrictions the Bible doesn't? . . . My parents visit me in Missouri and the love to go to the gambling boats. I go because they don't like to drive at night. My church has a problem with this because they view me as sinning. Is gambling wrong?"

Our writer is really asking two questions: "Why do we add rules to the Bible?" and "Is gambling wrong?" We'll deal with these in two successive columns, one question at a time.

Just why do we tend to add rules and restrictions to the Bible? It occurs to me there are two main reasons. The first reason is that the Bible isn't exhaustive. As technology has developed and new situations have arisen the Bible isn't equipped to be the legal handbook some would like it to be. Indeed, no single book can cover all the complexities of the legal system (ever taken a peek at an attorney's law library?!?).

For example, in several places the Bible adds its blessing to drinking wine and strong drink (Proverbs 31.6; 1 Timothy 5.23). But the Bible also warns that kings and leaders should abstain from drinking lest they pervert justice and/or make bad decisions. Further, members of the church are warned not to get drunk (Ephesians 5.18) while deacons and bishops are admonished to not be addicted to wine. Thus we can see that the Bible does deal with some specifics in this area. On the other hand, the Bible doesn't deal with drinking and driving simply because it wasn't an issue two thousand years ago.

Other issues and agendas have arisen over time that could not be considered when scripture was written. For instance, women in the Bible are viewed as chattel, or property, of their fathers or husbands. Today women and men are viewed as equals, at least legally, in most aspects. Indeed, civil rights aren't terribly important in scripture, nor is corporate law. All these advances (?) have arisen over time and scripture doesn't deal with them specifically. Thus, our society has added rules and regulations to make up for this lack.

The second reason we add rules and regulations to scripture is because of the tendency to codify our own beliefs. Using drinking as an example, the church has had an on-again, off-again affair with the use of alcohol. For centuries wine has been used in the Church for communion. Indeed, it is clear Jesus and the disciples drank wine not only during the Last Supper, but during everyday meals and at celebrations (Matthew 11.19; John 2.1-11). Drinking alcohol, at least in the form of wine, continued through the years without question, even by good and faithful Christians, until 1869 when Dr. Thomas Welch developed a pasturized grape juice for his fellow parishioners in New Jersey. From then on there has been a growing constituency who believed that drinking alcohol in any form was sinful. Why? Because it was believed that alcohol causes destructive behavior, and thus alcohol was "evil." Thus, from a personal sin-issue drinking became a corporate issue and finally a legislative issue when Prohibition was introduced. And so, even though the Bible specifically allows the consumption of alcohol in moderation, society and many churches have added restriction against it.

This same process has been brought to bear against rock-n-roll and long haired guys in my generation, against women wearing jeans in some churches, against men wearing earrings, and women wearing makeup. And so it goes, and so it goes. It's the tendency of people to legislate or make rules/restrictions that support whatever they personally believe or are comfortable with.

Jesus had the same problem when he began breaking the "man-made" rules of his day. He felt free to travel on the Sabbath day, to pick cereal and eat it for breakfast, and to hang out with the so-called "undesirables" even though all this flew in the face of the religiously self-righteous. But Jesus offered a philosophy to those who challenged his ways: Do everything out of love -- love God and love your neighbor. And Paul reflected the sentiment when he wrote, "Why should my liberty be subject to the judgment of someone else's conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why should I be denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10.29b-31). So, if it doesn't hurt anybody, if you can do it out of love, and if it glorifies God, in the words of the tennis shoe, "Just do it!"

Go to top of page