Community Papers

Faith Today: Rule-making can lead to divisions

By Vern Tompke

Vineyard Community Church

I, like many of you, have looked with concern at the events of the Middle East as religious fundamentalism under the new group ISIS has emerged as an even more threatening offshoot of the Taliban and Al Qaeda movements.

Remember when the Taliban ran these regions? Under their “religious systems,” women were denied an education, forbidden to laugh out loud (trust me my wife would be in big trouble), music and television were banned, and above all, no kites were to be flown. Now I can understand a ban on elevator music but kites—I mean really—what can you possibly have against kites! I guess flying kites lead to laughing.

Before I go too far down the finger pointing road, let me just say that I think that there are elements in every faith that pushes us toward religious extremes. We who claim to represent Christianity certainly don’t have a perfect record. Why is it that “religious” people can get so blown so off course?

I think the first reason comes out of accepting the view that God is a joyless being who is deeply suspicious of His childrens’ desire for fun, celebration or pleasure. For example, one of the past teachings of the church was that sex was only for the procreation of children. Why? Because pleasure for the sake of pleasure couldn’t possibly be God’s idea could it? Recently I heard about some friends who forbid their children from celebrating birthdays. Why? Despite the “God reasons” they gave I couldn’t shake the thought that at the core their God was deeply suspicious of the human desire to celebrate. Because this view affects us at so many levels, I take such hope and comfort in the scripture which declares that our heavenly Father is a God who “richly provides us everything for our enjoyment.”

The second thing that blows the human heart toward extremes is our tendency to systematize his relationship with God by creating rules. While the Ten Commandments were given to order our lives, the story of “religion” is our desire to help God out with a few extra! As rules breed faster than laughing rabbits, relationship becomes secondary. Instead of developing a heart of love for God and others, our focus becomes trying to enforce our rules on others or finding ways around them ourselves. When I grew up we were forbidden to play with cards. The results? We made different cards with different symbols and got around the ban. (I guess that shows you what kind of child I was.)

Rules inevitably lead to dividing people. Those who feel they have a great track record tend toward smugness wondering why others don’t buck up. Those who can’t or don’t measure up walk around with either a sense of shame or defiance (or both). Unfortunately many in our community can tell vivid stories of the divisions within families and churches between the “rule keepers” and the “rule breakers”

If you are one of those “black sheep” let me say this: “God is for you”. Somewhere you lost God in the “do’s and don’t’s” and turned your back on what you thought was Him. God is inviting you back but into a true heart relationship with him. If you are one of the “white sheep” let me say this: God is for you as well. Let him show you a side of Himself that is beyond your performance. He wants your heart, not just your behaviour.

I guess this is so important to me because I come from a family of both white and black sheep. Furthermore, I have been both a white and a black sheep at times in my life. Wouldn’t it be great if Chilliwack experienced a reunion of the white sheep and the black sheep? Maybe we could fly kites together. I think that would definitely make God laugh.

• Vern Tompke is pastor at the Vineyard Community Church and can be reached at vtompke@shaw.ca.

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