If you are a member of a church, you are frequently called upon to choose between church and God. Let me spell it out for you.
When you were young, there was always some kid around encouraging you to do things your parents disallowed. Do you remember that? Or maybe it was a classmate trying to get you to disobey school rules. Even today at work, there may likely be one or more coworkers who actively encourage you to break the rules in order to do things in a way that’s more advantageous to the employees and less so to the employer.
This sort of thing happens because not everybody shares the same paradigms about life. Whenever a standard is set, whether parental rules or rules on the job or public law, there will always be somebody who wants to cheat. And while we could debate whether an individual has any obligation to follow this or that rule, I’d rather just fast forward this discussion by taking it to the top level.
Christians have an implicit obligation to obey God. They also have an implicit obligation to revere what God says. After all, when you claim that someone is the Supreme Being in the universe and the Creator of all that is, a certain amount of respect and homage is implicit in that. Since Christianity is a book-based religion, wherein the central facts are recorded in the Bible, there is also implicit in Christianity some level of responsibility to the information in the Bible. For example, we call the Creator “Yahweh” because that’s one of the names by which he is known in the Bible, and we don’t call him “Doug” or “Jerry” because he is not known by those names in the Bible. Or, to give another example, we go around teaching that God’s son was born in Bethlehem. We could teach instead that he was born in Schenectady, NY, but we don’t do that because we draw our information about him from the Bible, and not from imagination.
That’s basically how it works. And it works that way with more than just information; it also works that way with our moral code. For example, a diligent Christian believes that God hates lies because he or she can read as much in the Bible. The diligent believer, therefore, shuns lying.
But then there’s church. And at church, there’s always going to be somebody trying to get us to cut corners and to cheat in one way or another on our obligations to God. It happens all the time, whether it’s cheating with doctrine, with morals, or with the purpose for the program. The fact of the matter is that it’s just way easier to run a church as one sees fit than it is to run it in such a way that everything that goes on there jibes 100% with all 1,100+ pages of the Bible. So the program comes first. And, fortunately for the program-mongers, very few in the pews are the sort to pay much attention to the departures from scripture.
Those who are, of course, can generally be talked into relaxing their objections. Things like “just go along to be unified” or “look, we’re doing this for a good cause” are particularly effective. And then there’s the table-turning tactic that bullies the objector into submission—things like, “I see a lot of pride in your thinking about this”, or “What are you going to do, start your own church?”
At the end of the day, however, all this boils down to what will be the fundamental paradigm of the people in the group. What is their prime directive? Is it to keep the church running, or is it to please God? I vote for the latter. But, of course, I had to cast such vote with my feet—again and again, as I realized just how impossible it is to find a church that is interested in fully embracing everything the Bible teaches.