Friday, December 11, 2015

Are rules set by churches a reflection of eternal divine truth?

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It is said that divine truth is eternal and unchanging. Christians set up principles that they choose to abide with. Churches set up rules or moral expectation that their employees have to follow. (In fact, all organizations have their own rules, so this is not something peculiar to churches. However, what is peculiar is the kind of rules that churches have which other organizations don't.) 

These principles and rules are believed to be reflecting God's eternal unchanging moral demand or order for the creation.

Some time back, ChristianityToday.com reported a change of rules in the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board:
Previous rules required would-be missionaries to have been baptized in an SBC church, or in a church that held SBC-like beliefs about baptism. Candidates baptized in a church that did not believe in eternal security—the idea that true Christians can’t lose their salvation even if they sin—or a church that views baptism is a sacrament were rejected.

The new rules allows those who were baptized by immersion and who are members of an SBC church to be candidates.

The changes also address the question of charismatic worship and prayer practices, which have been controversial for Southern Baptists. Under the previous rules, candidates who spoke in tongues or had a “private prayer language” were barred.

Under the new rules, speaking in tongues does not disqualify missionary candidates. Too much emphasis on charismatic gifts, like speaking in tongues, could still lead to discipline.

“IMB may still end employment for any missionary who places ‘persistent emphasis on any specific gift of the Spirit as normative for all or to the extent such emphasis becomes disruptive’ to Southern Baptist missions work,” according to a FAQ about the new rules posted by IMB.

Divorced candidates have been allowed to serve in short missions. Now they will be eligible to serve as long-term missionaries, depending on the circumstances of their divorce and other factors, such as the culture they will work in.

Parents of teenagers will also be potential candidates. The IMB had previously disqualified them out of concerns for the challenges that teenagers would face by being uprooted and having to move overseas. Now IMB leaders will decided on a case-by-cases basis whether or not to allow parents with teenagers.
In Singapore, most Baptist churches in the past required their newly hired pastors who were baptized by sprinkling and not by immersion to go through immersion baptism, as sprinkling was considered theologically invalid. Now, this is not required anymore. Many local Baptist churches recognize sprinkling baptism as well.

The point: Whether we acknowledge or not, churches do change religious rules and beliefs. If so, then how could churches and Christians claim that their rules and principles reflect the eternal truth of God? 

Therefore a lot of hesitation is needed for believers to make demanding claims on themselves as well as on others. Human rules are always interpreted construct that attempt to reflect God's truth to the best of our intention and understanding. But that should not give us enough reason to believe that our principles and churches' organizational rules are eternal truths. 

At best, they are for very practical and functional use, that is to ensure things move. But to claim that they are absolute and unchanging is another matter altogether. Such loaded theological assertion risks blaspheming God, impressing our own idea of what's right and wrong unto God, and telling the world that they are of God.

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