I’ve perched on the edge of my toilet seat, or maybe more accurately, hidden myself away, phone in hand, reading that "verse of the day" and trying to ignore the tiny fingers pursuing me through the gap beneath the door. Honestly, ANY awkward place is fair game and entirely good enough, when I'm nearing the brink of breakdown! As you might imagine, having 4 kids brings me to the rear edge of sanity rather often. So, cheers to you, Bible app, for helping to hold the pieces of my mind together!
So yes, obviously I believe that having quick and easy access to a Bible is a tremendous thing, but there’s another VERY significant impact that the e-Bible has had on American society. I think not even the visionaries of this tech could have foreseen the extent of the impact they would have.
The development of the e-Bible has stripped away an element of legalism from the arsenal of Christian religiousness. It's likely that the generation behind mine isn’t even aware of the shift, but for me, this is really BIG one!
Before I jump into talking about legalism, which I know can be a real hot button issue for many, I want to VERY clear about something: there are many amazing, beautiful, wise and balanced Christians who don't take issue with the things that I take issue with. Some of these church "rules" drive me absolutely buggy, even so, I'm comfortable with our differences. I promise that I won't judge you if we disagree. Acknowledging our differences, being able to discuss them rationally and still embrace one another, makes us stronger, well rounded and more sensible humans. I sincerely believe that our true and greatest strength (as Christians) lies in our ability to love each other WELL in the midst of our differences and our diversity (in all its forms). Because if we can’t love each other well, how can we ever begin to successfully love those who have no context for God’s love?? Sharing a faith requires that we agree on at least a couple foundational truths (i.e. the path to salvation), but beyond that, the road splinters a bit. And honestly, it’s ok that it does. Heaven and earth will not collapse if we Christians disagree, but it might if we fail to love.
Now on to the gritty (legalism) stuff: I grew up in a time before E-Bibles. Geez, that makes me sound soooo old! Here’s how things have changed: when I was a kid it was customary and expected for church attendees to EACH bring a Bible with them to church. I'm not really sure if this tradition was unique to U.S. churches or if it was a worldwide phenomenon, but it likely grew out of a need. Before overhead projectors or powerpoint presentations, and likely even before churches packed their pew backs with Bibles galore, people needed to bring their Bibles so they could follow along with the sermons. It made perfect sense early on, but somewhere along the way the need diminished but oddly the expectation didn't. The expectation didn’t merely remain but it increased. It got more stringent and mutated into a religious rule.
As a kid, I remember being instructed to bring my Bible every Sunday. There were "bring your Bible" incentives, where kids could earn points for bringing a Bible. On the days when I lacked one, the result was either a shaming look of disapproval or the question: “So...you didn’t bring your Bible??”. Even as a child, the "bring your Bible rule" (as I call it), made me feel so ashamed of myself, so...less than satisfactory.
I remember over hearing conversations about the virtue of not showing verses in full text within the sermon’s powerpoint notes because it would deincentivize attendees from using their Bibles on Sunday mornings. It was as if the belief was that somehow spiritual growth and maturity could be tied directly to one’s ability to tote a Bible on Sundays and navigate to a scripture reference. It still confounds that this perspective was ever considered sound logic, rather than an a blatant attempt to control and manipulative behavior.
After reading just a couple of my blog post, I imagine ANYONE could easily discern that I'm a touch rebellious. Not outwardly nor overtly...at least I don't think so. I'm definitely not rebellious in a dark, deviant or delinquent, 'anarchy rules!' sort of way, but rebellious none the less. I'm NOT quick to submit to authority or comply with the traditions or "rules" that seem arbitrary to me, specifically rules attached to spirituality.
I’ve always been analytical, but as a kid I was much more submissive than questioning. I craved the affections and respect of the spiritual authorities in my life. The things both directly stated and loosely inferred from the pulpit seemed unquestionable to me; above reproach and most dangerously, I considered them to be as pure as if delivered by God himself. Thankfully I did NOT attend any evil, abusive churches. The pastors and congregants were well intended Christians doing the best they knew how to do. But legalism was pervasive. I embraced all the rules and lived consciously by them. I imposed them on others, thinking it was right. I believed that God wanted me (and all Christians) to live meticulously restricted lives. Why did I believe this?? Well, it doesn’t actually make ANY sense other than, it was my context.
Through the years I've learned to assess things differently and I’ve grown away from my legalistic roots. But in growing away, I’ve become a bit intense about church quirks. I get kind of worked up over this stuff because these little requirements; these artificial “rules”, they can twist our minds up. They can bind us and restrain us from experiencing an authentic, truth filled relationship with God and others. Religious legalism deeply impacted me and I still fight against these tendencies within me. These “rules” have the power to unwittingly shape the way we perceive ourselves and God. They also HUGELY shape the way we imagine God thinks about us.
What I am quick to do these days is analyze and question. I pick the "rule" or instruction to pieces. I look at it from every angle. Some, like my Dad, have assessed that I’m capable of finding angles to address that might not actually exist, and he’s probably right. I've been known to go a little overboard. I'll be the first to admit that my analytical side is both a strength and a weakness, but this who I am. So, as with all things in life, the challenge is finding balance, right?!
Sifting tradition to glean truth is SO important! Is God a nickle and diming tyrant, looking for opportunities to punish us or is he loving, merciful, forgiving and generous? I have to be honest, he can’t be both. Those qualities are opposites. If God is loving, merciful, forgiving and generous and pro-freewill, then he’s not taking role call on Sunday mornings. He’s not even casually noticing who’s present and who isn’t. He doesn’t require me to come with my Bible. He’s not going to try to manipulate my behavior with sideways glances and rhetorical questions.
He sees my heart and my motives. And those two things matter the most to him. Our hearts are his true pursuit. He doesn’t care if I put my hands up or leave them down. He’s not at all interested in whether I did the whole ‘stand up’, ‘sit down’ thing and then carefully took out my checkbook and inserted the VERY FIRST check written, following payday, into the offering basket.
He wants my heart, but he wants me to freely give it. If I’m giving my heart because I want to fall in line or because “good Christians” are supposed to submit, or maybe I feel coerced somehow, or I want someone to notice my "good deeds"...then where is my heart really??? I’d say it's focused on pleasing man. I don't say this to condemn or stir up guilt. I say it because I'm familiar with those motives. The desire to please others was my main focus for years. I followed directions for the purpose of following directions and my top desire was to please man.
Today, this girl (me), cannot stand being fenced in especially in Jesus' name. I say "especially" because I believe that many of our religious fences are actually human-made boundaries, not truly positioned by God for our betterment.
Here's what all my rebellious energy shapes up to looks like today: when a worship pastor tells me to stand for worship, every muscle in my body fights to stay sitting...and sometimes I just do (stay sitting). When someone tells me to worship by raising my hands, right now, uhhhh...no! I’m not going to lift my hands till I feel it in my heart. And hearing someone say, "raise your hands" sadly, usually makes the "feeling it" part, take quite a bit longer to happen.
This is sort of a lame-o example, but even when that person in front instructs me to bow my head and close my eyes for a prayer...you get the idea, eyes open or eyes closed, there's nothing more righteous, spiritual or reverent about either. God never said, “Here’s how you pray. You ready?? Make sure you close your eyes...oh yeah, and bow your head!”. I'm not interested in simply following directions. I want the directives to have a value and a purpose.
Can I also confess that I really enjoy the fact that I can walk into church these days with my Bible stealthfully hidden within the confines of my phone. Even though I’m technically toting my Bible, it almost feels to me like a liberating act of defiance...cuz no one can be sure (except for me) that it's really there. Ok, so maybe I still have some issues to work through...
But my grandparents were taught that God disapproved of dancing and movie theaters, but where were the verses to support those rules?? Although I grew up with MUCH less spiritual regulation in my life than my grandparents' generation did, the “rules” still impacted me. So, my husband and I are consciously raising our kids to recognize our human tendency towards legalism. My prayer is that our grandkids will be freer than any of us. I’ve seen heavy chains of religious legalism crumble with the invention of the Bible app and I know more chains are loosening!