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Obsession With Rules?

RulesFrom time to time people criticise that we discuss liturgical and other church rules here. The word “rule” seems to be enough to get some people going; to get their backs up… Jesus is brought up pretty quickly as a breaker and ignorer of rules… Following rules is also pretty quickly identified with straining out gnats (Jesus again)…

Those who pay attention will actually have noticed that I tend to talk about our “agreements” more than our rules; more about what we have vowed and promised, rather than rules; I’m particularly interested in community, and community spirituality – more commonly known as “common prayer” – and what makes for keeping and enhancing that sense of shared spirituality, community, common prayer…

Certainly, anyone who knows me, or has been here for a while, will realise that I am no rubrical or liturgical fundamentalist – doing something just because the rubric says so, in direct contradiction to any sensible or theological reasoning… I want to explore our inherited tradition, and translate that into our contemporary context, abandoning anything that has ceased to possibly mean anything in that context… Blog posts are generally written with a light touch, and should be read in that manner, read in the most positive light possible (I hope, if there’s any ambiguity). Those who “unlike” the liturgy facebook page because there is too much obsession with rules clearly are not noticing the humour that salts that page and are treating everything as if it is the Law of the Medes and Persians rather than what it actually is – an early morning attempt to stimulate some discussion… and possibly some change and enriching of practice…

If we start with a focus, a goal (let’s say – union with God), we will soon end up with values and principles; disciplines, even, that will help us towards our goal, our focus. And soon, especially if we are doing this as a community, we will have a shared practice, common disciplines, common prayer – if you will. And we will end up with traditions, agreements, and… yes… rules…

I’m not as convinced as some, who are quick to attack liturgical and church rules, that Jesus was against all rules. I think his focus was on the end, the goal, and rules are relativised – especially if rules detract rather than lead to the goal – then Jesus would denounce and break the rule. That is a good reason to discuss rules here. Does this or that particular rule enhance our common life, or detract from our journey into God…

People will say, “that’s hardly a salvation issue”, or “you are making a mountain out of a molehill”, or “God isn’t concerned about such details”… Yes, hardly anything we do or talk about is a salvation issue – what a drab world if we can only talk about things that are a salvation issue. No – it’s not a mountain; no one is saying it is a mountain; it’s a molehill – let’s talk about this molehill, this interesting molehill, and if it doesn’t interest you – that’s fine by us. And no, God doesn’t worry whether we drive on the left or on the right, but it really helps life if we together decide which side we are going to drive on here in this community…

And then there are those who say that it doesn’t really matter whether we do A or B. Good, fine – then let those to whom it does matter be the ones to make the call.

[And we haven’t even got into one person’s gnat being another person’s camel, one person’s mountain being another person’s molehill…]

To be continued…

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14 Responses to Obsession With Rules?

  1. Hi Bosco
    The most important lesson I have learned from you over the years is the value of and the implications of common prayer.

    One implication of aspiring to pray commonly is that we define what our commitment (agreement) to common prayer means, how we safeguard that prayer and how we maintain it against tendencies to solipsism. Ergo, ‘rules’.

    But when I feel the need to talk about liturgical rules, I am trying to preface it with talk about common prayer …

  2. As someone who has written of an “obsession with rules’ let me first say that personally I prefer common prayer and a certain order. As such I would agree with many of your comments above, But I also think that despite what you write above many of your posts in their tone over- support our man made orders.
    Incidentally I do not see Jesus as a rule breaker but as someone insisting on the important.
    I suppose I think there has been too much attention on minor issues on a site for religious questioning. I also have contact with an Austalian site “Catholica”. I just list a few of currently discussed topics.
    Leading a decent life without faith
    The Catholic Church is not Christian: discuss
    Paedophilia Question
    The Middle East The Jews & the Palestinians
    Assisted dying: Ex-Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey backs bill
    Elected Silence speak to me, beat upon my whorled ear
    Explaining the exit out of the pews; comparing Church to the Cinema..
    The sower or the soil? (Sunday Readings: 15th Sunday in OT)

  3. I should have added to above that I know this site is called “Liturgy”. Iy also has the phrase “spirituality that Connects”. It is from there I come. This goes way beyond liturgy, but focused,relevant liturgy also has a significant role. The Church Times recently had this paragraph in a report.

    For the main part, members of churches did not speak about being motivated by a set of abstract Christian principles. Rather, they were shaped by being part of a worshipping community of a particular kind and in a particular context that was responding to their communities in particular ways. This could be described as ‘incarnational’ ministry, meaning that churches are not just there for local residents but also with local residents for the long term

  4. Dear Bosco, as one who recently commented on your blog that the matter of whether or not the priest should be the first recipient of the Sacrament of the Eucharist was not exactly a ‘salvation issue’, I feel duty-bound to say that this was said with tongue-in-cheek. However, this week, when I am presiding at St. Michael’s on a daily basis in the absence of other clergy; as I have a cold, I am avoiding drinking from the common cup until after everyone else has received it.

    I, I think like you, am/are what might be called a ‘careful’ observer of liturgical tradition, but not necessarily a punctilious exemplar of the ‘jot, tittle and iota’ school. However, I very much appreciate the care with which you put these liturgical matters before us on this blog. Do keep it up, we need to be challenged – so that what we DO may be a tribute to the Holy One we all want to serve and follow.

    • Thanks, Fr Ron. You are illustrating my point well. Some can become punctilious exemplars of the ‘jot, tittle and iota’ school – missing the point of the rules, and the exceptions where their point is maintained; others can abandon the rules before they have even thought through why they got there. Blessings.

    • Dear Ron
      I would like to remind you of the importance of rule 178: concerning the celebration of the sacrament of the instant hand sanitizer as a prelude rite to the main rite … given your self-declared medical situation, it is most important that rule 178 is adhered to! 🙂

  5. One of the things I enjoy about this site is the way “common prayer” goes beyond having common traditions and styles of worship. We don’t need to be using the same “liturgies” in other denominations in order to be praying together. I know you won’t mind that I’ll skim over the posts that are not relevant to non-Anglicans. Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks, Claudia. I try to, each week, present some things that maintain interest beyond NZ and beyond Anglicanism. That only about a tenth of visitors to this site are from NZ indicates that I am at least succeeding on the “beyond NZ” aim. I have no idea what denominational percentages are – that might be worth its own poll 🙂 Blessings.

  6. As an Anglican who was dumped from Sunday school because of terminal boredom, but whom God got through to in my teen years. I can say that liturgically I have been everywhere man, from the stiffest stiff upper lip high church Anglicans to the wildest roof scrubbers in the business. We all have rules and boundaries. Where those rules and boundaries act as a guide to the pathway to God they are wonderful and necessary. Where they become an end in themselves we have problems. Imv few of the rules are, in and of themselves, wrong. They may be wrong for me personally but I cannot and should not impose my rules on others. Jesus seemed to be constantly challenging the rule makers because human natures turns the 10 commandments into a 100 pages of detailed does and don’ts. Clearly this was not Gods intention.

  7. I. “If we start with a focus, a goal (let’s say – union with God), we will soon end up with values and principles; disciplines, even, that will help us towards our goal, our focus. And soon, especially if we are doing this as a community, we will have a shared practice, common disciplines, common prayer – if you will. And we will end up with traditions, agreements, and… yes… rules…”

    Response: What is the principal goal of Liturgy [organized, public, communal, Christian prayer]? Consider that it might be to build a supportive community for individuals attempting to live a Christian life. While union with God is a gift from God, something people cannot obtain for themselves, God has given the Liturgy to the Church as a means to support each of the baptized in following the way of Love taught by Jesus. The focus is more pragmatic than exstatic, I suggest. We are meant to get something out of the Mass: a perception of being part of a supportive community and refections upon how at a particular time and place one might APPLY the teachings of Jesus.

    We need to discuss and reach a confident conclusion about the purposes and priorities of Liturgy. God does not need our worship. Prayer is wider than worship. The community at prayer has different needs and possibilities from the individual who might be gifted with spiritual experiences or just be meditating as a good mental health practice. Building up communal support for each other and confidence in knowing the teachings of Jesus is different.

    II. “Some can become punctilious exemplars of the ‘jot, tittle and iota’ school – missing the point of the rules, and the exceptions where their point is maintained; others can abandon the rules before they have even thought through why they got there. ”

    Not knowing the origins and intentions of liturgical customs and why they have been codified seems to be a failure of many clergy and laity who want to modify or add to Liturgy. They do not understand liturgy as having its own set of purposes, its own means, a specific reason for existence and means of effectiveness different from cultural and personal preferences and very diffferent from the values of enterntainment where variety and originality are important. Neither creativity nor artistic expression are liturgical values. Treating the assemby as audience instead of as the praying communion shows that the liturgy has been misunderstood.

    Knowing the history and theology and practical limits of liturgy seems to be beyond so many people that they blame the “rules” for crimping their “style” when they do not even know what are the rules and what options are already available.

    In short, many people do not take Liturgy seriously enough to actual study it and think it is something as simple as a school parents’ meeting or talent program. The results are often an amateurish mish mash.

    III. From a non-Zealander and non-Anglican. Roman Catholic trained in the middle of the USA.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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