Liberty?The New Testament portrays Christians as people who have not only been set free from sin, but also from the bondage of law.  Today the people of God are no longer under the Law of Moses, but rather the "Law of Christ".  What is the "Law of Christ" exactly?  In many (but not all) Churches of Christ, we apparently consider the Law of Christ to be a collection of rules.  Consider the following "rules" nearly all of which I have personally heard taught.

Is This the Law of Christ?

  • Using multiple communion cups is sinful.
  • Using multiple pieces of unleavened bread during communion is sinful.
  • It is a sin to miss Sunday or Wednesday night services.
  • All gambling is sinful.
  • All dancing is sinful.
  • It is a sin for women to attend congregational business meetings.
  • A second communion service on Sunday evening is sinful.
  • A second communion service on Sunday evening is essential since some were "providentially hindered" from attending on Sunday morning.
  • Women sin if they wear pants. They must only wear dresses.
  • Women sin if they cut their hair too short.
  • Women who do not wear a head covering during the assembly are guilty of sin.
  • Weddings in the building are sinful.
  • Funerals in the building are sinful.
  • It is a sin for women to teach a Bible class if any of the minor aged boys happen to be Christians.
  • It is a sin for women to teach a Bible class at all.
  • “Church of Christ" is the only acceptable name for the Lord's church.
  • Using the capital letter "C" is not acceptable since the church of Christ is not a denomination.
  • Multiple Bible classes during the assembly are sinful.
  • To avoid sin, Christians must make a financial contribution weekly even if they are not paid weekly.
  • Acceptable prayers must end with the words “in Jesus' name”.
  • Sunday is the divinely appointed day for the assembly (but mid-week meetings are okay).
  • Sunday is the only day we may take up a financial collection.
  • Sunday is the only day we may eat the Lord’s Supper.
  • It is sinful for charities (colleges, orphans homes, etc) to be supported out of the church treasury.
  • It is sinful to aid non-Christians from the church treasury.
  • It is a sin to aid Christians who have unbelieving spouses from the church treasury.
  • It is a sin to eat inside the church building.
  • To avoid sin, only fermented wine may be used during communion.
  • To avoid sin, only un-fermented wine may be used during communion.
  • Only "The Five Acts of Worship" are authorized during the assembly, anything else is sinful.
  • Singing must be congregational; solos or choirs are sinful.
  • Church singing must be words only; humming is sinful.
  • Those who are not Christians cannot participate in worship regardless of their gender or age.
  • A kitchen in the church building is sinful.
  • Instrumental music is sinful during worship
  • Baptisms are only valid if the one being immersed understands that the immersion is for the remission of sins.
  • Baptisms are only valid if they are performed in running water (stream, river, etc.).
  • The only valid means of interpreting the Bible is by Direct Statements, Necessary Inference and Approved Examples.
  • When God gave no instructions in a particular matter, we are prohibited from engaging in the practice the Bible is “silent” about. However, this rule shall not be applied to matters considered to be helpful in obeying any other commands such as church buildings and their necessary furnishings, etc.
  • Those who do not agree doctrinally are considered “unsound in the faith” and will not be extended fellowship nor considered Christians.
  • Unbelievers may not partake of the Lord’s Supper without sinning.
  • Only the song leader's voice may be amplified by artificial means.
  • Hand clapping during the assembly is sinful.
  • Women may not speak at all during the worship assembly except to sing.
  • It is sinful to raise money through any means other than collections taken during the assembly (no fund raisers of any kind).
  • It is sinful for congregations to pool their money regardless of the work this money is meant to be spent on.
  • It is a sin to celebrate Christmas and Easter as religious holidays.
  • It is a sin to engage in two acts of worship simultaneously (example: singing while taking up the collection).
  • Church gyms and fellowship halls are sinful.
  • Not wearing our best to services shows disrespect for God and is therefore sinful.
  • Passing babies back and forth during worship shows disrespect for God and is therefore sinful.
  • Watching babies during worship, instead of paying attention, shows disrespect for God and is therefore sinful.
  • Whispering to someone during worship shows disrespect for God and is therefore sinful.
  • Passing notes during worship shows disrespect for God and is therefore sinful.
  • Chewing gum while serving at the Lord’s Table shows disrespect for God and is therefore sinful.
  • Wearing a cell phone on your belt while serving in any public capacity during worship shows disrespect for God and is therefore sinful.
  • Folding arms or practicing poor posture during worship shows disrespect for God and is therefore sinful.
  • Casual dress (jeans, t-shirts, etc) worn to the worship assembly shows disrespect for God and is therefore sinful.
  • Any type of casual conduct during worship services such as trips to the water fountain or rest rooms shows disrespect for God and is therefore sinful.
  • Reaching for belongings (coats, purses, etc),  in preparation for departure, during the invitation song shows disrespect for God and is therefore sinful.
  • Bringing toys or food for young children into the worship service shows disrespect for God and is therefore sinful.
  • It is sinful to be a “Christian at Large” - one must be an official member of some local Church of Christ congregation.

I'm sure more rules than these have been advocated at one time or another.  Obviously, not every congregation would endorse all of these rules (as some are contradictory) but it is alarming that many congregations, especially the most conservative ones, would embrace most of these rules!

Did Jesus Die to Remove One Form of Bondage Only to Replace it with Another?

When I stop to contemplate all of these rules that I have been taught over the years, I have to ask myself, "Is this what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote about the liberty we have in Christ Jesus"?  I'm pretty sure that I know the difference between liberty and bondage and the list above looks an awful lot like bondage to me. Consider a few words from the New Testament on the matter.

  • Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 2 Corinthians 3:17
  • And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage) Galatians 2:4
  • Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Galatians 5:1
  • For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Galatians 5:13
  • So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. James 2:12
  • ...not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 1 Peter 2:16

Clearly, the New Testament teaches that Christians have been liberated.  We are freed from bondage to sin, but we are also free of the bondage of codified law.  The ancient Israelites were bound by such a law and they were unable to live up to its demands.  Paul's entire letter to the Galatians was an effort to teach them that the only law they were under was the "Law of Christ".

What is the Law of Christ?

Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.   Galatians 6:2

Reading through the New Testament, it becomes clear that the above list of rules which the more conservative Churches of Christ cling to isn't to be found.  Clearly then, this isn't the Law of Christ.  When Paul spoke of the "Law of Christ" in Galatians 6:2, he is employing the use of irony.  Irony is using words to convey an idea that is the opposite of the literal meaning of the words.  Paul isn't saying that we are literally subject to some sort of codified law akin to the Law of Moses.  Rather, he spent the prior five chapters of his letter declaring that we don't have such a law.  It seems that he is saying almost tongue-in-cheek that if the Galatians were so eager to follow some law, let it be the "Law of Christ".

Paul clearly implies that the Law of Christ involves helping one another.  When Jesus was asked in Matthew 22:26 which commandment was the greatest, He answered by saying, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind'. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

May I suggest, based on the Galatian letter and Jesus' words above,  that the Law of Christ is that we love God, and love our fellow man.  The commandments God has given us in the New Testament aren't meant to represent a new "Law from Sinai", but instead are given to teach us how to love one another.  If we instinctively knew how to love each other, God would not have needed to give us commands and directives.  For example, we have commandments against adultery because adultery hurts not only our spouse, but ourselves and everyone else who loves us.  We do not show love by committing adultery.  We have commandments against stealing because theft hurts the one who is stolen from.  If we love people, we will not steal from them.  God's commandments are not arbitrary rules for us to follow as a test to see who can be obedient enough to merit Heaven.  In reality, they serve as instructions which teach us how to love one another.

Can the above list of "commands" be compared to the instructions of God?  Not at all.  They are of a different nature.  They are of a different caliber.  Our Church of Christ rules are a list of "do's and don'ts" that we think we see in the New Testament, but they hardly show us how to love one another the way the real commands of God do.  This is quite a contrast when we think about it in these terms, isn't it?

Every sin is the result of putting our own desires ahead of God or ahead of others.  Every sin is motivated by selfishness. If we act in such a way as to put our own selfish desires above the best interest of God or of others, we are not demonstrating love and therefore we commit sin.  When we sin we hurt not only ourselves, but others as well.   His commands, if obeyed, result in showing love to Him, ourselves and to everyone else.  Every command that God had ever given us is based upon the principle of love. His commands aren't meant to keep us from having fun, but rather they serve to teach us how to love one another.

Conclusion

The long list of rules above are all derived from binding examples, legislating where God has given no instruction and from mere personal opinion.  Shall we choose the liberty that is in Christ or the bondage of law keeping?  The "Law of Christ" teaches us to help others and love them; not hurt them.  The "Law of Christ" is simply this: that we love one another.  Christ's commandments show us how to act out that love.