Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: The Pen is Mightier than the Sword (04/08/10)
TITLE: The Birth of a Church
By Ruth Thoutenhoofd
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I grew up in a legalistic church where rules were supreme. “Godliness” equalled following the orders of those in authority. Don’t watch TV. Don’t dance. Don’t wear jewellery. A wrist watch must not be gold. Don’t cut your hair unless you are male, and in that case, cut it this way. An extra layer over your dress will provide modesty, so make your dresses like this. Wear your skirts this long. Wear stockings like this. Never wear pants! Cover your head when you pray and don’t ever be caught in the pool hall. Breaking the rules meant a number of things: guilt (God’s perceived displeasure), experiencing the disappointment or wrath of your parents, not being allowed to take communion, and eventually excommunication.
The purpose of the rules was to make us holy. If women cover up, men won’t lust. If we don’t become familiar with the things “outsiders” are doing, we won’t want to do them, and thus we won’t fall into sin. As this philosophy proved not to work, the rules became ever stricter. We got weirder and weirder. The more different we became from the “world” the less good we did in the world; the less meaning our rituals had; the further from God we became. Force didn’t work to draw us close to God.
Thinking people don’t take another human being’s perspective as the final word. Thankfully, my parents and others were thinking people and eventually the words penned by men inspired by God himself broke through. Concepts like peace and compassion and mercy and grace became stronger than the “sword” of forced control. My dad discovered Colossians 2:23: “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.” Others came to the same conclusions.
Things began to change. We girls were allowed to wear pants if we were doing work that required it. The funny little hat we’d been forced to wear to school stayed at home. My sister who had a cleft palate wore a little makeup. We got a Christmas tree, and - wonder of wonders - a television set! All of these changes alarmed the authorities. A church split resulted, of course. The splinter group began their own school, lengthened their skirts and covered their heads more thoroughly. Those who stayed behind began to look more like the neighbours, put a piano in the church, and began to attract “outsiders”. People from the community became followers of Jesus and the church grew in holiness and love. That church is now the community church in the little prairie town I grew up in.
Oh, that the entire world would understand that change comes to people through enlightenment, not force. Women across the world could take off their burkas, look men in the eye, and discover themselves to be equals before God. People could worship God out of love and gratefulness, rather than duty or fear. God’s will would be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
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