“Rule” does not always have be a negative term. While our first thoughts might associate the word with strict legalism, a rule or discipline can give our spiritual lives the direction we need, so long as Christ’s grace is not forgotten. In fact, with any rule, Christ’s grace must be a priority.
Moreover, within Christian history, a rule can be considered a set of guidelines or precepts. Consider something along the lines of “The Rule of St. Benedict.” I’m not advocating for the type of legalism often found in medieval monasteries, but I am saying that seeking to live by a set of rules and exercising discipline in that rule gives purpose and direction, and forms a foundation for our spiritual lives.
With modern Christianity in the United States being all over the theological and ecclesiastic-church-structure map, often finding itself bogged down in bureaucracy, and even acting like quite the circus, seeking to follow a general, simple rule might be something to consider. In the midst of so many distractions, a rule gives focus. Within the greater Christian Church, the following is a rule that those called by God to do ministry can seek to live by.
1. Seek spiritual formation.
Spiritual formation and cultivating one’s relationship with God come first. Silence, submission, solitude, and time with the Word – the Word as Christ and Scripture – help us understand our true identity in Jesus Christ and the Spirit working within us. These aspects are not all encompassing of spiritual formation, but they start a formation for it. Considering Christ’s greatest commandment, this could be considered as loving God with heart and soul.
Exercising a sabbath, committing one’s self to the fruit of the Spirit, showing humility, and ridding one’s self of arrogant attitudes are all examples of spiritual formation.
2. Exercise the mind.
Just as much as Christians are called to love God with heart and soul, we are also called to love God with our minds. However, learning as much as we can about God must be coupled with spiritual formation. Knowledge, in and of itself, is a tool, must be paired with wisdom, humility, and good judgment, and by itself is not necessarily the end goal. James reminds us that even demons know a lot about God; knowing a lot about theology is important, but it is not the singular factor that determines a Christian. If knowledge is strictly sought for its own end, knowledge can be easily manipulated.
However, we must always seek to challenge ourselves with information, think critically and in a balanced way, stretch and stimulate our minds, evaluate and discern intellectual ideas for what is good and bad, and learn as much as we can about God. Moreover, learning about an idea does not mean agreeing with an idea. Finally, Christians can have civilized dialogue with people about various ideas and philosophies, agree or disagree, and still cheerfully love our neighbors.
Exercising the mind means that intellect and heart go together, not against one another. Intellect and humility show the heart of a Christian. Intellect and arrogance do not and can become an opportunity for knowledge to be manipulated.
Loving God with our minds and seeking to learn as much as we can about God also involves a commitment to staying on the path and trajectory of historical Christian orthodoxy. This path is already at work through the Spirit moving in two millennia of Church history and should be studied.
3. Strive for good health.
We must also love God with our bodies. God created us with physical selves, in goodness, and out of love; therefore we must take care of our bodies. Physical fitness, eating well, and taking care of the overall wholistic health of our bodies and minds are very important. Moreover, doing this, and helping others to do this, allows Christians to maximize God’s gift of life for each one of us with our actions each day. It doesn’t mean maintaining the fitness level of a Navy SEAL or Special Forces Soldier, but it does mean being willing to put in the necessary work to take care of yourself and your body.
4. Live in community.
As Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesus, one of the main roles of a church community is to build people in the faith. Community and the people around us help form, build, disciple, and encourage authentic Christians. Community keeps us accountable, helps us learn how to love people that we don’t always want to love, and spend time with one another. Being a Christian is not a solitary activity.
Additionally, community also means understanding the role of the greater catholic, unified Church and the place of all Christians throughout time and space. Within the greater authority of Jesus Christ and his Church, local churches and denominations are not ultimate authorities, nor infallible. Tribalism, denominational sectarianism, and myopic, tunnel-visioned views do nothing to help the body of Christ. We must seek to end these kinds of attitudes and tendencies. Christians must be willing to see orthodoxy and truth in other churches and denominations, partnering with one another and building one another up.
Community makes us humble. As individuals, we have to exercise humility in community and put other people before ourselves. Churches and denominations have to stay humble in the context and authority of God’s greater body – the people of God throughout history, all over the world.
5. Apply simplicity.
Don’t make things more complicated than they have to be. Making things as simple as they can be accomplishes the mission. Occam’s Razor, a rule which generally means that simpler is better, can often be applied to church organizations. Applying simplicity declutters our minds, declutters churches and denominations, and removes distractions, needless obstacles, and layers of bureaucracy that we have set up which, in the end, only take away from fulfilling the mission of God.
Hundreds of years ago, John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement in England, preached a message on finances that can be summarized as, “Make as much money as you can and as honestly as you can, so that you can give away as much as you can.”
Work gives individuals a sense of dignity and accomplishment, as well as helps us interact with and witness to the people around us. Moreover, it allows individuals to be in a financial position where they can help others generously when others are in need. I’m sure many of us are familiar with the proverb, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a meal. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” Working allows people to be in a position to do both.
The reality is also that work within the church, even in official pastoral ministry, increasingly does not provide necessary finances to take care of one’s family and be as giving as one always wants to be, so it is important to understand that many ministers must look for paid work outside the church. Also, when ministers work full-time outside of ministry, they can better support their families, give to those who are in need, and empower other church leaders to run, lead, and take ownership in a local church.
Make money honestly. Be responsible and generous with it. Know that it belongs to God and you are only a steward of it. Don’t allow money to become an idol.
To conclude, here is a modern (really not so modern) Christian rule: Seek spiritual formation. Exercise the mind. Strive for good health. Live in community. Apply simplicity. Work.
Is this an order you’ll commit to living to?