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Why I Hate Rules
Jack Radcliffe

When my second son graduated from high school it was a special time. As usual, it involved navigating the busy parking lot and locating a row of seats for our family only to discover that the people two rows back had “saved” them. After finally finding a place to sit, we discovered that our camera’s 4x zoom lens needed to be about a 25x lens in order to take a clear picture of people on the stage.

I think we can all laugh at these common graduation experiences. Without them it wouldn’t be graduation, in the same way that it wouldn’t be graduation without the speeches from the class president, vice president, salutatorian(s), and valedictorian(s). There was one speech in particular that caught my attention. An articulate young lady summed up her class’s approach to high school over their four years by saying they never saw themselves as rule breakers; they were simply blazing a new trail. Music to my ears!

I’ve always been one who doesn’t particularly like rules but who at the same time is one of the first to observe most of them. If they serve a purpose—i.e., provide us with physical, emotional, and spiritual safety, health, and well being—then I’m a fan. If they’re a hindrance, created to control behavior or as a knee-jerk response to someone’s poor choice in order to ensure it doesn’t happen again, then let’s blaze new trails.

Throughout the centuries, the Christian faith has seen its share of rules and trailblazers. Paul was one of the first to tackle the problem of bad religious rules head-on. The Colossian church was a victim of a watchdog group who assumed they were the authority on how the church and its members were supposed to think and act. This group created a set of rules to “help” people comply.

Many of us put off exploring the Christian faith and getting to know Jesus because it looks and feels like we’re being controlled, manipulated, and force-fed the appropriate ways to respond to God. Such rules seem to benefit those in authority and the organization to which we’re being asked to give our loyalty.

Paul hated the kinds of rules that lead to the restrictive experiences we sometimes have with religious groups. He reminded the Colossian church battling with the behavior police that they had received Jesus Christ, the true authority, not those who claimed to be the bosses. Therefore, he said,

“Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. . . . So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority” (Colossians 2:7-8, 10, NLT).
Paul was telling the Colossian church to blaze a new trail by following Jesus. In taking that risk they would discover how to freely and authentically have a relationship with him in whom they put their trust in the first place. Conforming our thoughts and actions to those of Jesus rather than to a set of negative rules frees us from the fear of being judged by others and from our own efforts to manipulate them. According to Paul’s words, freedom isn’t just adhering to a code of ethics where all the consequences are established and clearly communicated ahead of time. Freedom is discerning the appropriate way to love in any situation. Only Jesus can lead us in doing that.

Jack Radcliffe is a husband and father, pastor, ministry consultant, and coach with Youth Ministry Architects and the Center for Youth Ministry Training, both in Nashville, TN. He is also an adjunct professor at Martin Methodist College and a seminar presenter for ParenTeen (www.parenteen.com). He has an MDiv from Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio and a DMin in Youth and Family Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary.

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“I loved the New Living Translation when it first came out because it made the Word of God more accessible. We made it our pew Bible at Grace Pointe. Now that it’s even better for study, I am anticipating an even greater impact on our congregation!”

K. John Bell
Grace Pointe Church
Naperville and Plainfield, Illinois

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