Christian code of conduct – unwritten behaviour

Table of Contents for: Christian code of conduct – unwritten behaviour

With an article entitled ‘Christian code of conduct’ you probably think; ‘Oh no, here comes a list of rules for life.’

Two people gossiping about another person. Christian code of conduct - unwritten behaviour.

But I’m not talking about that, I want us to think about how our Christian group or church has an unwritten code of conduct, that everyone joining the group has to follow to conform.

You probably think that sounds weird and that’s not our group!
But a congregation takes on it’s own unwritten unique code of behaviour and appearance.
To feel ‘accepted’ you need to follow this unwritten code.

Roy was cold-shouldered at church for not behaving the same

To give a real life example, Roy (name changed) was naturally jolly and bouncy, but the congregation was more sedate and ‘spiritual’!
Soon Roy was getting on everybody’s nerves and this was intensified when the church went away for a few days of camping.

Photo opportunity at Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival. Christian code of conduct - unwritten behaviour.
Posing for a photo opportunity! Christian code of conduct – unwritten behaviour

The reaction Roy was getting was summed up when he bounced into the room to get his breakfast, wearing a baseball cap back-to-front and chirpily said, “Good morning campers!”
This totally broke the congregation’s code of behaviour!
Almost everyone gave out an inaudible groan and Roy was increasingly cold shouldered.
Little groups would gossip about his inappropriate behaviour and they would look down on his actions.

It was horrible, but as a young Christian I was not brave enough to challenge people’s actions and I was also scared of being the odd one out.

It didn’t take long before Roy left that congregation feeling very hurt.
I met up with him because I felt so ashamed of the group’s actions and I tried to explain how I felt.
He was obviously very upset and didn’t want to see anyone from the church so seeing me wasn’t helping, but I think he did appreciate one person seeing his side of the story.
I have not seen him around since then and I hope that he has had some sort of healing from that ordeal.

What was Roy’s crime for being side-lined?

Cartoon face feeling hurt. Christian code of conduct - unwritten behaviour.

He hadn’t done anything wrong – he just hadn’t ‘conformed’ to the congregation’s unwritten code of behaviour.

Paul tells us to:

Accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

Romans 15:7

The word ‘accept’ here means ‘to take to oneself’.

Do we, or our congregations, uphold these often petty codes – at the expense of pushing people away?

Do we ‘take to oneself’ the newcomers who dress differently or who behave in a different way to what we expect?

The effects of being ostracised by a church

To show how important and damaging being snubbed by a group or church is, Stephen Parsons has made a summary of a study carried out by Kipling Williams:

Ostracism, according to Williams’ model, has as its intention the undermining of four fundamental human needs.
Each of these needs contributes significantly to human flourishing.
Because they are actually things everyone requires to function successfully as human beings, the attempt to destroy them can create massive unhappiness.
This unhappiness can be so great that a person under this kind of attack might be tempted to surrender to despair or even suicide.
Williams’ four needs that are attacked by ostracism are a) belonging b) self esteem c) control and d) meaningful existence.

‘Ostracism and Church – further reflections’ by Stephen Parsons [i]

Church goers being ostracised by removing the feeling of belonging

…the most important, the ostracised person will feel rootless and ignored if all his/her belonging is taken away.
Of course, we might think, such a person will immediately attempt to establish contact with other groups and find new ways of belonging.
But the irony of this is that the group doing the ostracising had typically taught the individual that he/she was to cut off all contact with family and friends who do not belong to the group…”

‘Ostracism and Church – further reflections’ by Stephen Parsons [i]

Church goers being ostracised by hitting self-esteem

The silent treatment will have the effect of undermining an individual’s confidence and encourage him/her to think of themselves as being permanently in the wrong.
Over a period the inner sense of self-value will plummet and the individual will lose all his/her confidence and morale.”

‘Ostracism and Church – further reflections’ by Stephen Parsons [i]

Church goers being ostracised by control

The loss of control will happen, once again, because a silence, which is never-ending, will leave one with a sense that the barriers that exist with the ostracising group cannot be negotiated with or overcome.

‘Ostracism and Church – further reflections’ by Stephen Parsons [i]

As a young Christian I was in an authoritarian church and they wouldn’t allow going out together with just the two people ‘dating’.
You may be able to guess the consequences of such ‘laws’!

It was crazy, but the whole church embraced it and reinforced it.
The only way to counter that was to ‘rebel’ and carry on, but receive the criticisms’ and cold shouldering, or leave the church altogether.

Church goers being ostracised by removing any meaningful existence

The individual will be left in deep sense of uncertainty, living in a kind of profound enveloping mist.
Finally the deliberate isolating of the former member by the group will be effectively a kind of social death.”

‘Ostracism and Church – further reflections’ by Stephen Parsons [i]

So on the face of it, a church or group having an unwritten code of conduct is a good thing, but there is a line and if crossed it quickly descends into a devilish control and abuse.

Everyone needs to wake up and if any of this is seen then don’t shrug your shoulders.
It is very important to help and intervene in these situations.

Here is a really useful Christian code of conduct:

Don’t let a group put you into some sort of straight jacket and don’t let a group mould you into something you don’t want to be.
May these words encourage you:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you:
Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.
Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.
Instead, fix your attention on God.
You’ll be changed from the inside out.
Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.
Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

Romans 12:1-2 from The Message Bible

The grey areas of ostracising a person from the church

I was a church warden in an Anglican church for a number of years and a married couple started coming to church.
He had a connection with a church in his past and his wife had no experience of church and was not Christened (that is to be baptised as a baby in an Anglican church, see baptism meaning.)
They appeared to be taking in the sermons and they were both taking communion.
The other church warden was not happy about them taking communion, but I was more relaxed about it as I believed that by staying they would come to faith and they weren’t being put into any leadership position.
Besides many people at Christmas, and at other times, received communion without being Christened and, or, not having any believing faith.
I chatted to them so that they knew the situation and they were happy to continue coming to church and to take communion and further explore faith together.
Unfortunately, this situation was taken to the Rural Dean who said that they couldn’t take communion, so they left the church.

Where do you stand on such things?
We don’t want to put a ‘stamp of approval’ on anyone who isn’t a Christian, but we don’t want to turn people away when they are seeking for God.

[i] ‘Ostracism and Church – further reflections’ by Stephen Parsons

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