Back in 1969 my Dad took our family to a drive-in theater to see Walt Disney’s animated feature, 101 Dalmatians. Besides the excitement of seeing the movie on the big screen and eating popcorn in the car, the memory that lingers in my mind about that particular evening was my very worried mother in the backseat. She was concerned, praying in fact, that Jesus would not return and catch her at the movies. And if being at the movies weren’t bad enough, it was on a Sunday night to boot.
We laugh about it now, but back in those days it was a great concern for her. She and many others had been taught that only sinners go to movies. The logic was that going to the movies led to other worldly things like going to dances. Going to dances led to beer and beer led to huffing airplane glue, LSD and beyond. In short, going to the movies meant that you were on a fast track to hell.
I don’t say these things with the intention to mock people’s beliefs and convictions. It is true that small missteps have the potential to lead to major problems if we aren’t committed to God as we should be. Furthermore, the film industry, today, rarely produces anything that is wholesome and conducive to a Godly lifestyle. Still, we must also acknowledge that we must guard against coming under the bondage of man’s dogma and opinion. In the same church that taught we shouldn’t go to movies, that women shouldn’t wear jewelry, cut their hair or, God forbid, wear pants, I saw lying, cheating, scheming, gossip and a host of other dishonorable things.
Sometimes we can focus so intently on the obvious evils in this world that we never pay attention to the little foxes that spoil the vine. This isn’t just a Christian issue – it’s a people issue. In Judaism there is a concept referred to as “The fence around the Torah.” The fence was man-made additions to what God had said, intended to keep people far away from the possibility of breaking a command. Though it was born of a desire to keep God’s instructions, in time, the fence around the Torah became the focus of Judaism, rather than what it was intended to support. Eventually, many people found themselves on the wrong side of the fence looking into the Torah, but not living in the Torah.
Messiah summed this up so brilliantly when He said:
“You have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matthew 15:6-9)
There is nothing wrong with having a conviction about attending movies or women wearing pants, etc. But when we elevate a person’s opinion to the level of dogma, so much so that we ignore God’s commandments, this is a problem. In fact, there are many of God’s people in bondage to this deception all the while believing they are pleasing God.
Let’s not get so focused on the possible seductions of dancing, movies and the like that we forget the more subtle evils that creep into our lives. The problem with God’s people has always been those habits and opinions that have a tendency to take hold of our heart and turn us into religious people, rather than relational people. Let’s remember that, even with the best of intentions, we can cause our opinion to become a stumbling block for others. Yes, we can have our opinions but let’s all walk out our salvation with fear and trembling. Let’s live in the Word and tear down the man-made fences that would keep people out. Messiah broke down the middle wall of separation so He could present one Body, the one new man, unto the Father. Let’s not build it back up.