Johnny smiles as the wind blows on his face through the open window...freedom. Just up the road he notices a group of seven or eight horses on the road. As he nears the horses, he pulls over to the side to let them pass. What a perfect addition to a perfect day.
"Wow, you don't see too many horses on the road these days." Johnny says aloud. "What a treat!"
The horses pass Johnny and as they do, the smallest of the horses notices Johnny, and positions himself a little further from him. The horses pass without incident and Johnny is ready to drive. Just as he starts to pullout, he hears sirens. A police car pull up behind his car. Without warning, the officers handcuff Johnny, place him in the back of the patrol car, and take him for a long ride downtown.
You may be thinking, "Oh poor Johnny, what did he do to deserve that?" But don't be fooled, people. Johnny is a criminal and should be dealt with severely. You see, in the state of Pennsylvania when motorists see a group of horses on the road they must immediately pull their car to the side to let them pass. The motorist must then cover his car with a camouflage blanket as to not upset the horses. If the horse is spooked just a little bit, the motorist must take his car apart piece by piece and hide the parts in a bush. It's the law.
Many regions have weird laws. For the most part, these laws are old traditions put in place for a specific time period. While there are some strange laws that make no sense at all, federal and state law are important for maintaining peace and the personal rights of individuals.
Today in America, Christian's are discussing legalism in the church. Many times the rules that a church promotes are based on tradition and not the bible. But out of the desire to have no restraint, the word 'legalism' has been overused and abused to excuse poor Christian behavior. The danger of legalism is now overshadowed by an attitude of lawlessness.
A church is not legalistic if the leadership is following the Bible and asks the congregation to do the same. The Bible is the authority of God in written form to give instruction to His people. But what about extra-biblical rules enforced by local churches? For example, many churches ask their leaders and members to abstain from alcohol. The Bible says nothing this so it is perfectly within a believer's rights to have a drink once in a while. While this rule is extra biblical, judgment regarding legalism must be based on the intention and heart of the rule. I choose not to drink because others struggle with alcoholism, therefore I agree with the heart of the house rule.
House rules that are made by churches because they "love their neighbor" are not legalistic. "Love your neighbor" laws are a sure sign of a healthy, well-rounded church. Just like state and federal law, house rules in a church are designed to maintain peace, order, and love between believers and non-believers alike.
In the bible, there was a family who chose for generations not to drink alcohol and God blessed them because they honored their father. When feeling oppressed by the rules in a church, ask yourself, "Does the leadership love?" If the answer is yes, then God will honor and bless you to follow those rules whether you agree with them or not. When we surrendered to God, we chose to be slaves to Christ. That means that we gave up our "rights" to serve Christ and to love others. Freedom is not gained by demanding rights, it is gained when we surrender to the ultimate lordship of God and Christ.