Since May Week is legislating new rules for parents this year in order to crack down on teens and their texting habits (I’ve heard that they are, indeed, banning texting between teens interested in each other), I think it’s an appropriate time to write about the subject of rules-based parenting—and how that relates to legalism, Pharisaism, and our understanding of God as our father, and his grace. Have you thought about why the Old Testament comes with 613 rules from God for His people? And have you thought about why the New Testament wiped out such ordinances? Or why people constantly try to interpret the New Testament in such a way as to re-create an Old Testament style legal system?

The disparity in how God related to his people then vs. now, I believe, is because humanity was in a different moral era then than it is now. Humanity started with Adam and Eve. Think of society itself as a newborn infant, just starting out in the world and having to experience murder for the first time, as in the story of Cain and Abel. Humanity itself was in its intellectual and moral infancy at the beginning, and the Old Law was God’s way of teaching society more about his desires for how mankind lives.

The Old Law and all of its regulations was never intended to be the primary way God related to his people. It was always intended to just be a schoolmaster, or tutor for humanity—a means to teach mankind his moral expectations. Now, with His laws written on our hearts, we have little need of a written code of rules and regulations. I’ve raised a lot of kids and foster kids into adulthood, and I’ve said plenty of times “do I need to make a rule for that, or did you already know the right thing to do?” I suspect a few parents have said something similar. The truth is, kids wouldn’t need rules if they lived according to the The Greatest Commands at all times. But they don’t. And so we come along and have to make rules and assert authority to teach them the proper way to behave.

I have a confession. When our kids were young, my wife and I were the kind of parents who judged other parents when their kids were out of control in the store. We’d look down our noses at them, much like the Pharisees looked down their noses at the masses under their tutelage who didn’t follow the Law of Moses perfectly, and according to their superior instruction in the synagogues. But about the time our kids were into their teen years, we started to hit a brick wall. What we were doing before wasn’t working. And then it dawned on us. We were not acknowledging the developmental changes from child to adult, from fully under our authority, to an autonomous human being with free will. In the gray areas between those mile markers, we had not acknowledged that reality in our parenting style. That had to change.

We did an about-face. OK, not exactly a 180-degree turn-around in our parenting; we were still pretty conservative parents. We didn’t suddenly become permissive parents. But we certainly made a 180-degree turn in how we went about achieving our goals. We took on more of a mentoring role, We started allowing more autonomous decision-making, for better or for worse, with veto power, obviously, if the need arose to lay down the law.

When their decisions were not stellar, we allowed them to feel the consequences. If you think back to how you felt as a teen, if your parents protected you from any consequences from your bad decisions, you may have kept making them. And if your parents sheltered you from making any bad decisions, you may have suddenly decided to start trying them upon turning 18. Show of hands, anyone?

My point is that the rules-based parenting of our kids when they were younger and not as mature, is not unlike God’s rules-based parenting of mankind when it was younger and less mature back in Old Testament times. He imposed a lot of rules for a young humanity as it grew in maturity.

Likewise, God’s transition to a grace-based moral economy is not unlike our recognition that our kids needed to become adults, and learn from their own actions by feeling the consequences of their decisions. Let’s call that #adulting.

So how does this relate to Stanton and it’s May Week rulings, all the rules set by teachers in each congregation, and its authority wielded over the churches by its self-appointed overlords? Surely you can see the comparison. They are trying to parent the flock using rules and regulations for every possible behavior. Parents can’t make a judgment on whether their own teens are trustworthy enough to text each other. The church has to make a rule about it. Parents can’t make a decision about entertainment choices of their teens without getting counsel—i.e., a rule—about it.

Rules placed upon independent adults lead to rebellion. Relationship—coming alongside them—is called mentoring, and that’s a different method altogether of achieving reform. When you think about it, the only real way to successfully change someone from the inside out is to appeal to their desire to change so that they want to do it. Forcing change upon adults in the form of a rule may change the behavior (or at least make them work harder to not get caught), but it will leave the heart in rebellion, and that can be worse.

As an adult, I appreciate good mentors to help me grow. That’s iron sharpening iron. It’s also how God parents us, and how elders ought to be leading the flock. Oh, wait—Stanton doesn’t have elders yet after nearly half a century.