Four years ago, I published a post called “Donkeys sleeping in the bathtub.” The post was inspired a commercial that was airing around the time that I wrote the post. The commercial was about crazy laws that were on the books in certain states. It made me think about how there are certain traditions among the church, and how those traditions started, and how those traditions just seem to hang around… whether they are helpful or not.
According to a commercial on the radio, there is a law in Arizona that makes it illegal to allow a donkey to sleep in your bathtub.
Also, apparently, in Minnesota, there is a law that makes it illegal to cross the Minnesota state line with a duck on your head.
While these laws seem funny and even ridiculous to us, there was probably a good reason for passing the laws in the first place. If we traced the history of these laws, we would probably understand why the laws are on the book. However, while the history may clear things up for us, history will not make the laws make sense today.
Why? Well, most people don’t own donkeys today, much less allow them to sleep in their bathtubs. And, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone with a duck on their head.
But, of course, once a law is on the books, it is difficult to remove it.
The same thing happens with our traditions and practices and rules in the church. For very good reasons, the church begins doing things and begins doing them in certain ways. Eventually, the reasons disappear, but the practices continue.
Eventually, if we’re not careful, those practices become more important to us than who we are as the family of God in Christ. The way we do things becomes more important than the reason we started doing them in the first place. We become defined by our methods instead of being defined by our relationship with God and with one another.
I think we see this today in many aspects of our lives together as the church. We don’t know why we do the things we do or why we act the way we act or why we’re structured the way we’re structured, but someone must have had a good reason to start doing it this way, and we’re familiar and comfortable with these things, so we just let them continue.
But, the silly laws I mentioned at the beginning of this post – laws against donkeys sleeping in bathtubs and wearing a duck on your head – generally don’t affect people today. For many people, their lives will not be changed if the laws remain or are repealed.
But, it is completely different for the church. The things that we do day after day, week after week, year after year, simply because that’s the ways it’s been done, or the ways we’ve been taught, or the ways that have worked before, or even the ways that seem rational and logical… these things affect us as followers of Jesus Christ. They affect our relationship with God and our relationships with one another.
The things that we do or don’t do, the way that we’re structured or not structured, the way that we speak or don’t speak, all of these things work to either build us up toward maturity in Christ, or they hinder our development in Christ.
Laws against donkeys sleeping in the bathtub seem funny and ridiculous to us. But, I wonder if the way we treat one another as the church, the way we set up hierarchies among believers, the way we abandon our responsibilities toward one another and pay others to carry out our responsibilities… I wonder if these things seem funny to God.