I was surprised when a new member of i-church contacted me and asked me why we have ‘pages and pages’ of regulations. I would have said i-church was run with a very light touch; we rarely moderate people’s posts and there is not a huge hierarchical leadership structure.
But the new member is right – when I looked at the ‘small print’, I realised that we do have very detailed written rules which new members are asked to agree to keep when they join.
Some rules are there to make sure members don’t breach legal requirements on issues like copyright and libel, because if they do i-church may be liable. Some of them state the basic behavioural requirements that enable the forums to fulfil their purpose of enabling people to explore the Christian faith, rather than getting side-tracked by personal arguments and off-topic discussions.
They all have one thing in common – they are only quoted when someone oversteps them, which isn’t very often. When people do break rules it’s not usually deliberate, so it’s helpful to be able to point them to a written summary for future reference.
Occasionally people come along who repeatedly refuse to keep the rules even when they’re explained. If they continue to cause problems they have to be banned from using the site. This can seem harsh, but if someone doesn’t care about our legal obligations or other members’ feelings, they are not really interested in being part of our community – they just want to use our bandwidth!
It may seem a long way from forum rules to Leviticus. The similarity that struck me is that ‘pages and pages of rules’ may be necessary to safeguard a community.
When we read Leviticus we usually focus on the harsh penalties for rule breaking, rather than thinking about the rules themselves. But penalties are only applied if the law is broken. Laws are made to safeguard the welfare of a community.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
Jesus summarises the whole of the law into a command to love – love God, love our neighbours, and love ourselves.
If we accept Jesus as our saviour, we do not need to fear breaking the religious laws which are codified in Leviticus. He has already paid the penalty for our failures.
Thanks be to God.