Being Defined by the “Don’ts”

“Christians, don’t have any fun. Just look at all the things they ‘don’t’ do.”

It’s a comment I have encountered over the years. And some Christians think that to fix this, that it’s time to be defined solely by what we “do” and not by what we “don’t” do.

There’s a difference between “we don’t do these things so as to be saved” and “we don’t do these things because we are saved.” The first is legalism; the second is an act of worship.

Being defined by what we don’t do is not new. It is not a new product of 20th century fundamentalism, or of Wesleyan-holiness traditions. Christians being defined by what we don’t do, and being see as weird for the things we don’t do, stretches back even to the early church.

This is where I find the Didache so interesting. It is filled with ‘don’ts’ and ‘should nots’. Even when it states what early Christians should do, it also does not shy away from stating unequivocally what they should not be doing.

Not only does it include the 10 commandment “thou shalt and thou shalt nots” it also details other things that Christians shouldn’t do.

A few examples:

You shall not kill a child in the womb nor expose infants. –This was a common practice in the Greco-Roman culture, and Christians were strange for not only not doing this, but also for actively adopting those children who had been abandoned to the elements to die.

You shall not speak evil of others. You shall not hold grudges. –This is built off the commandment to not bear false witness.

Do not let yourself become angry: it may start in anger, but end in murder. –Anger ends in murder! Wow!

Do not lust after sex…[and] You should not be someone of obscene speech nor someone with a roaming eye… -All of these lead to fornication.

Ultimately, what the Didache is teaching is that there are two ways, the Way of Life and the Way of Death. And to follow the Way of Life is to do things differently than those who follow the Way of Death. And in both cases, those who follow the Way of Life and the Way of Death are defined by not only what they do, but also what they don’t do.

Following the Way of Life, living in a way that that is distinct from the pagan/secular/unchristian culture demonstrates that Christians are different and that this way of living is more than merely following rules, or more than just legalism; but it is instead an act of worship that becomes worked out not only through the act of baptism but also through participation in the Eucharist, the meal of giving thanks for Christ’s saving life, death, and resurrection.

It is inevitable and unavoidable. Christians have been, and will continue to be, defined not only by what they do, but also by what they don’t do. We should be careful to not privilege one while forsaking the other, especially if we forsake it simply because it makes us look weird.

  • Vicki

    Great post! Thanks.

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  • http://perichoretictheosis.wordpress.com athanasius96

    “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.” –Book of Common Prayer