Heresies, Wives Tales, and Ridiculous Rules

Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. His mother’s name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah; she was from Bozkath.  He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.
In the eighteenth year of his reign, King Josiah sent the secretary, Shaphan son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, to the temple of the Lord. He said: “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest and have him get ready the money that has been brought into the temple of the Lord, which the doorkeepers have collected from the people.  Have them entrust it to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. And have these men pay the workers who repair the temple of the Lord— the carpenters, the builders and the masons. Also have them purchase timber and dressed stone to repair the temple.  But they need not account for the money entrusted to them, because they are honest in their dealings.”
Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it.  Then Shaphan the secretary went to the king and reported to him: “Your officials have paid out the money that was in the temple of the Lord and have entrusted it to the workers and supervisors at the temple.”  Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.
When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes.  He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”
Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Akbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter.
She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read.  Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.’  Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard.  Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord.  Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.’”
So they took her answer back to the king.

  • 2 Kings 22:1-20

“The twentieth century American church has managed to divide itself over a whole range of issues.  The list below contains issues that I have personally encountered.  In every case, there are sincere believers who consider the activity in question prohibited by God, while equally sincere brothers maintain that participation is permitted within the Christian’s freedom:”

Attending moviesWearing two-piece swimsuits (women)Watching television
Working for pay on SundayMixed swimmingPlaying pool
Mowing the lawn on SundayGambling for recreationPlaying cards
Fishing on SundayDrinking wine in moderationBuying insurance
SmokingCooking with wineAttending the theatre for live drama
DancingParticipating in sportsEating food in the church building
Wearing pant suits to church (women)Participating in contact sportsUsing a Bible translation other than King James
Raising tobaccoPlaying guitars in churchListening to rock music
Wearing makeup (women)Wearing beards (men)Wearing hair over the ears (men)
Wearing hair cut above the shoulders (women)Kissing (unmarried couples)Wearing skirts above the knee
Playing the saxophone in churchTaking sedativesSpeaking in tongues
Going to a psychiatrist

“People who read this list tend to react with laughter and incredulity.  On the one hand, they chuckle at the items that are ‘obviously’ in the area of freedom.  On the other hand, they can’t believe that anyone could feel free before God to do the things that are ‘obviously’ forbidden by principles of Scripture.  And yet if we asked ten different believers of various ages and backgrounds from different parts of the country to separate those activities into categories of ‘permissible’ and ‘not permissible,’ we would likely end up with ten different sets of lists.”

  • Garry Friesen with J. Robin Maxson, Decision Making & the Will of God

Okay, this post is near the length that I try to stick with and I haven’t written my ideas yet.

And note that the rule about no skirts above the knee does not have a gender note, probably an omission by the author.  And if you are thinking of a kilt, kilts are not the same.  A Scottish skirt has carefully folded pleats around the entire garment so that the tartan (the careful twill weave of the fabric to form the clan’s (or other) pattern) is shown even though there are pleats throughout.  The kilt does not have pleats in the front of the garment, where the sporran is displayed (a pouch, usually decorative, tied with a chain of cord around the waste, used to carry essentials since kilts ‘nae have pockets, Laddie or Lassie as the case may be’).  A man should never wear a skirt, but there are kilts made for women.  I know, rules, rules, rules.

I wanted the entire chapter of 2 Kings 22, because Josiah wanted to do the right thing.  He wanted to worship God the right way, and even the “good” kings of Judah before him, who were rare, had not done things according to the Law.  And imagine how so many kings could go by and not ever see the Scriptures.  No wonder they strayed.  And also imagine, Josiah was 26, or near that birthday, when he set about to correct the mistakes of his ancestors.  Sorry, I like doing the math.  It is amazing that someone of that age would have the wisdom that his ancestors did not have, but wisdom is one of the gifts God gives to those who need it and are willing to listen to God’s voice.  Since Josiah reacted in the manner that he did, he was spared seeing the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of Judah.

As for Rev. Dr. Friesen’s list, I think that I have heard of all these rules or been subjected to them.  I agree with his assessment about ten people producing ten lists if all ten are from different areas of the country.  Okay, maybe I never heard the one about not playing the saxophone in church, at least not specifically.  I guess my younger son is going to Hell for that one, and maybe my wife and I for encouraging him.  All joking aside, we need wisdom, like Josiah, in dealing with the minefields created by misinterpretation or misappropriation or missed application of the Old Testament Scriptural ‘rules.’  What is meant literally?  What is meant as part of the religious ceremonies of that day – when they didn’t have movies or television?

Of these rules, I could add a few, like no tattoo will ever get past the pearly gates.  That may have included no piercings in some circles also.  Friesen’s book is copyrighted in 1980.  I wonder what he thinks of the explosion of those fads in recent years.  Of course, this quote came from his chapter on “Wisdom when Christians Differ.”

But of these rules, my boys would say that I had the rule of no rock music, but that was the option if they did not follow the rule that I wished for them to follow.  “Do not listen, or even tap your feet, to a song unless you know the lyrics and you can abide by what they are saying,” letting them use their own interpretation of a Biblical moral code.  Beyond that, they could listen to whatever they desired to listen.  Since the boys ignored that rule, I drew a firmer line.  Of the boys, our younger son loves acid rock style Christian music – a jumble of loud, ear-piercing guitars and drums with people screaming, and no one understanding a word that they say.  Beyond that, he likes traditional hymns, yet goes to a contemporary worship service.  Yes, confusing.  Oh well, so much for rules.

At least our younger son has set aside Béla Bartók, for a little while, maybe.  My mother, having been a church pianist and organist, etc. had a piano and organ back-to-back in her living room.  She had a rule that no one could touch either instrument unless they were playing music on it.  She gave our younger son a template that related the keys to the notes on the sheet music.  With his love for music and this simple lesson, he spent a two-week visit one summer, in maybe the third grade, self-teaching himself how to play, with no idea how to place his hands on the keyboard or anything beyond the notes of the melody, one finger playing one key at a time.  He was so proud of his accomplishment that he volunteered to play for the elementary school Christmas show that year.  The music teacher worked with him so that he could play two-part harmony.  That year, he got a keyboard from Santa Claus.  (As one of his friends said in amazement, “You can play the piano and you don’t even have one!”)

But years later, when my parents allowed him to live with them while he was attending college, he practiced Bartók on my mother’s piano.  When we came to visit, she said that the rule about banging on the piano was rescinded.  How could she tell whether the child was banging on the keys or playing Bartók.  (Our son always got huffy when she said that, as he carefully demonstrated a few discordant measures to show the genius of the composer.)  I found several examples of Bartók on Youtube, but this one seemed typical.

He admitted later in life that there were two reasons for playing Bartók.  One was that he liked the experiments that Bartók used in getting on the edge in his music, but it also “drove Grandma crazy.”  I think the second reason was that her bookshelf full of rules of the house drove him crazy.  Okay, there was no bookshelf.  The rules were in her head, and since one of the rules was “Do not have fun – ever,” you could say that the rules were indeed endless, as she kept adding, “Do not do what you are doing right now!”

Then again, the house, where our son was staying at the time, was where I had seen most of the rules in the table above in use, at the hands of my father’s father, a staunch old-style Southern Baptist, but then again, the saxophone issue never came up, but I do recall hearing someone talk about certain musical instruments being banned in churches, just not specifically saxophones.

I have mentioned this story before, but it bears repeating here.  I once brought a board game into Granddaddy’s home.  (Forbidden.)  The board game used dice.  (Forbidden.)  The board game had cards to read instructions.  (All types of cards – Forbidden.)  But since the board game was about the life of Jesus and every square along the path had Scripture references for the miracle, parable, or event, we were allowed to play the game, only if we read the Bible stories for each square that we landed on, even if we had already read it when someone else got there.  Of course, King James Only!!!!  And a game that usually took an hour to play took all day, but we loved it.  We were breaking Granddaddy’s rules!!  And our grandmother, Mammy, treated us to cookies for being so quiet all day.  Little did she know how naughty we had been.

Sorry for this being long, but it has been a long road down memory lane.  I grew up among legalists that were well-meaning, at least most were, most of the time.  They learned their legalism from prior generations.  If the kings of Judah had been legalistic, maybe their form of worship might not have strayed so badly.

But God has washed away our sins.  We do not live by the Law, but by Grace.  We should, with Jesus in our hearts, desire to follow a perfect moral law, but following the rules, which are impossible, does not afford us salvation.  We are saved by trusting in Jesus with ever fiber in our bodies.

So, is there a right and wrong way to worship God?  Sure, but let’s worship God in Spirit, and not make our Christianity based on rules.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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  1. When my dad was the pastor of a small, non-denominational church, he had a very long list of rules. I was five when he became a pastor, and suddenly the television had to go. No more Captain Kangaroo or Saturday cartoons!

    Playing card games or board games with cards was sinful, because it could lead to gambling. Smoking, drinking, and swimming in mixed company was sinful. Saying gosh, golly, and gee whiz was sinful. Dancing was sinful. When I was around six years old, I was playing with my hula hoop in my bedroom and my dad was working on something down in the garage, which was directly below my bedroom. He heard me using my hula hoop and it sounded to him like I was dancing. My father dashed up the stairs and gave me a hard spanking, because it was evil for a six-year-old girl, alone in her bedroom, to dance. I told him that I had been playing with the hula hoop that had been given to me as a birthday gift, not dancing, which got me a second spanking for the sin of lying. It did not matter that I had the hula hoop right next to me when he came storming in my room. Oh no, he knew I was dancing.

    Women couldn’t wear pants or makeup. Oh what a fit my dad threw when we were on the way to my mom’s sister’s wedding, and my mom told my dad that her mother had given her a tube of lipstick and asked her to please wear it to the wedding, so as not to embarrass their side of the family. My dad grabbed the lipstick out of my mom’s hand, threw it out the window, and yelled all the way to the wedding, driving like a maniac the whole way.

    Apparently, littering, yelling at your wife in front of your child, and driving recklessly were not sins in my dad’s long list of religious rules.

    My first grade class went on a field trip to see the animated movie Pinocchio at the local theater. In advance of the special outing, I brought a permission slip home to my mother, as the teacher had instructed us to do, certain that my parents would not give their permission for me to go.

    To my shock, my mother signed her permission. “Don’t tell your father!” she said. “He believes that all movies are sinful. But Pinocchio is not sinful.”

    I went with my class on the school bus to the theater, because I had no choice. But when the lights were dimmed and the projector was turned on, before anything but a white light was showing on the screen, I squeezed my eyes shut and held my hands tightly over my ears. I did not want to sin by either watching, or hearing, any of the movie.

    At one point, long after the movie had started, I heard all of the children in the packed theater laughing uproariously. In that moment, curiosity got the better of me, and I opened my eyes. There on the screen I saw a giant Pinocchio, with a very long nose, running like his life depended on getting away from something or someone.

    Immediately, I was overwhelmed with guilt. I slammed my eyes shut again, mashed my hands even harder against my ears, and prayed non-stop for forgiveness, until finally the movie was over and it was time to exit the theater.

    I have many more stories about growing up under such strict rules, but I think my comment is now as long as your post! I will just end with this: when I was twelve, my dad left the ministry, lost his Christian faith, and — after his marriage to my mother ended — he became a pot smoking, motorcycle riding, Buddhist hippie. He was eventually diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. And yes, my dad really, truly was more than one person.

    For many years, I called myself an agnostic atheist, because — yeah. Lots of reasons. But God never let go of me. And today, I am utterly amazed by His great love and grace!

    PS: My grandchildren call me Mammy, too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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