Over my adult life I’ve attended a broad variety of churches. I’ve been in a rural one room Fundamentalist Baptist church where the pastor sincerely believed that any Bible but the “King James” and any church that belonged to a denomination was against God’s will. I’ve been in an urban United Methodist church pastored by a graduate of Duke Divinity school. I’ve been in a Southern Baptist church where speaking in tongues was thundered against in the pulpit, and a Presbyterian church where it was encouraged in the pulpit. I’ve been in a conference with ten thousand pastors where they all celebrated that both Presbyterians and Baptists could worship and learn together, as long as everyone agreed that only men could be pastors. I’ve went to Lutheran churches that served wine with communion and Bible churches that would expel you if you drunk it. Been in churches with metal rockers and churches that taught as theology that the rhythm of any drum was a Satanic influence. In short, I’ve sampled s little of everything on the evangelical buffet.
Looking back on 50 years of churches, I can honestly say that I learned about God in every single one I attended. And looking back on all of them, I can honestly say that I felt like, in some way, I didn’t belong in any and all of them. There have been some wonderful churches, wonderful pastors, and wonderful people in my life, but I always felt like I never found “my” church, the one that fit me.
Part of the reason was that I always carried around with me an internal list of spiritual rules. I could tell you who God was, what He expected of me, all the rules He followed and all the rules He expected me to follow. Of course, the problem was that my list of rules never exactly matched the list of rules (written or unwritten) that the church I was going to was using. There was always some degree of mismatch. I had accepted this as the inevitable result of all of us being sinners— it was impossible for me and impossible for any group of people to have the perfect list of rules because no one could perfectly figure out exactly what God’s list really was. All of us were going to be “wrong” about some of our rules. As the familiar saying goes, there are no perfect churches because there are no perfect people.
But lately I’ve been thinking, maybe part of my problem isn’t that I haven’t figured out the perfect list of rules, but that it’s not about rules at all. Maybe a life of walking with God isn’t about figuring out all the rules. Maybe even looking at the spiritual life as being about rules and following them is missing the point entirely.
My life of marriage isn’t about rules. I don’t spend time figuring out what rules my sweet Tina should follow, or which ones I should follow. I just relish in the reality that we are one, that we are sharing a beautiful life together, that we get to explore each other and love each other in new and beautiful ways each moment. No rules are necessary. No rules are even helpful. Truly, all we need is love.
I know this may sound radical, but why shouldn’t life with God be the same way? Walking with God as a life of love and not rules. That when you have a life of love rules become unnecessary. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus said? That to love God and to love others was the real message of all the prophets that had come before him?
In reality, a life of rules vs. a life of relationship have two very different paths and two very different outcomes. Picture in your mind’s eye your spiritual life as years of figuring out a list of rules and trying to follow them perfectly. What kind of person do you think you will become from a lifetime of following rules?
Now think about your spiritual life as a journey of exploration, of learning to ever more deeply immerse yourself into God’s love, drinking from the life-giving water that Jesus spoke of. Your life has nothing to do with rules, but just with filling your soul every day with Spirit. Now think of the person you will become from that life.
So, which life do you want to live? Which person do you want to become? Choose to lead a fearless life of walking with God in love.