For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; Acts 15:28
I once heard a man say, “Rules + Regulations – Love = Resentment & Rebellion” when introducing a new faith based Drug & Alcohol recovery program to our Church. The principle that was being taught applies to so many facets of our lives, from parenting, marital relationships, inter-office and employer to employee relationships, and so forth.
In the realm of spiritual leadership, the position of authority, generally the Pastor, holds so much power over the average persons life that I fear it to be too easy to shift into the Rules + Regulations mentality. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
This discourse comes from my own personal experience and is spawned from conversations I have with people who have left my previous denomination and some who are still there. Let me briefly describe what I mean when I said, ‘the Pastor, holds so much power over the average persons life’.
In my 15 year experience with Apostolic Pentecostalism, our Pastor(s) controlled nearly every aspect of our lives, from general clothing and what hair styles were allowed for men and women, if/’when we could move (you were called to that Pastor so he has to bless where you go), who we could/couldn’t date, for how long and how long we could/couldn’t be engaged if we were allowed to marry the person, with their blessing, what entertainment we could consume, if we could get a tan, what kind of clothing our children could wear and at what ages, and so on and so forth. In this arena, you were expected to ask permission to do nearly anything.
This power had the authority of salvation because its taught and believed by so many that if the Pastor doesn’t bless what you do, neither will God, and if you are not complying with every rule and regulation, you are in rebellion. If you are in rebellion, which is as the sin of witchcraft, you can’t be saved. This mentality leads to absolute power of a persons life if they believe the man of God holds the power of their salvation in his hands.
However, when we turn to the Bible, it makes it clear who shall not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven;
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. – I Corinthians 6:9-11
Of course this is NOT to say there should be no standards taught, or submission to Biblical authority! However, I’ve heard people say many times that if the Pastor preaches it, and it isn’t in the Bible, you still have to obey it as an absolute. I strongly disagree. The measuring stick of the preaching today is the Word of God. If it isn’t in the Word, it isn’t from God. Our experiences should be justified by the Word, our experiences do not justify the Word.
In Acts 15 we came off the heals of a debate about legalism – a hot topic of the time. Some wanted to force the Gentile, in the age of Grace to conform to the Law of Moses. However, they determined, by being guided by the Holy Ghost that no further yoke should be placed upon the Gentile Church than the obvious moral commandments of God, and;
That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well. – Acts 15:29
So are some spiritual leaders requiring too much of their flock and heading towards legalism? Is it a knee jerk reaction to easy believism (liberalism)? Paul exhorted that we should not walk in Sin because we have Grace, he said God Forbid! We should flee sin, and walk in the Spirit. Have we lost the balance then?
In my opinion, legislating faith is the lack of faith. If the pastor has to control a Christian’s walk, he has no Christians. We are to be led by the spirit and the spiritual leader is to be an example to the flock, not a dictator to the flock. Searching the Word there is no evidence of any early church fathers, Apostles, disciples and leaders lording over the flock in such an absolute way. Rather, Paul set the example of a leader laboring among the flock and showing the fruits of Christ. He commanded to turn away from fornicators, but he also said to welcome in the weak brother who struggles with sin and faith.
I hope we find the balance in the Church that principles should be taught, right living should be exemplified, that holiness is not what hairstyle the pastor says you can have but your hearts attitude and reverence to God, that Christianity is a desire to be like Christ. Consider the words of Christ:
But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. – Matthew 15:9 KJV
Their worship of me is empty, because they teach human rules as doctrines. – Acts 15:9 ISV
Their worship of me is empty, because they teach human rules as doctrines. – Acts 15:9 WEB