About a week and a half ago, the Tampa Bay Rays swept the Boston Red Sox, handing them their 10th straight loss. After being up 8-3 in the 7th inning, Yunel Escobar stole third base because no one was holding him on. Apparently that’s not kosher, as a Boston Red Sox player yelled something to him. Yunel, who doesn’t speak English, must have picked up a few words here and there because he responded, calling out said Sox player to fight. So the benches cleared and several were thrown out of the game.
Fast forward to last Friday night when David Price hit David “Big Sloppy” (I refuse to call him Big Papi) Ortiz in the his ginormous rump with a mid 90’s fastball. Ortiz didn’t like that and we almost saw another bench clearing. That would happen after the next hit batter in the 5th inning. To the casual fan, it appeared Price was not happy with the way the Red Sox took issue with Escobar stealing third. But in reality, Price was not happy how “Big Sloppy” admired the home runs he hit off him last year in the playoffs.
Several sports talk show hosts began to ask a the question about “unwritten rules.” Is it showing up a team to steal a base in the 7th inning when only up by 5 runs? With the Rays bullpen pitchers, I would say no. They’ve already given up 5 runs in an outing this year. However, I don’t get a vote. Some of the Boston players felt the Rays broke an “unwritten rule.”
When Big Sloppy admired his home runs-as he often does-did he break an unwritten rule? The Rays David Price thought so (along with a host of other pitchers who congratulated him on it). Again, I’m biased, but I think he did. I tell Connar that’s not how you play the game, and that someone who does it, should expect to get hit. Yet most people don’t hit Big Sloppy, so did he really break an unwritten rule? Yet how long is too long to look at a home run before you start your trot? How many runs do you have to be up before you should NOT try to steal even though the other team isn’t hold you on? And in what inning? One of the problems with unwritten rules is that they open to interpretation. We have enough trouble interpreting written codes and laws. You can imagine the unwritten ones are even harder!
There clearly are unwritten rules in baseball. Just what those rules actually are, and when and how they are enforceable, is quite unclear.
Sometimes churches can have unwritten rules as well. They shouldn’t, but many often do. How do you know if your church has unwritten rules? The same way you know in baseball. Look at the reaction from others. When the scriptures are silent or unclear on an issue, and you’ve received counsel, and you are convicted that God has freed you to follow Him down a path that others haven’t traversed as much, then pursue it. If you get push-back, then you know what unwritten rule you’ve broken. Perhaps another has some wisdom to offer-for not everything that we’re free to do is necessarily good or wise. Or perhaps he/she/they are simply trying to make you follow man-made rules like an evil Home Owners Association. Of course evil HOA is redundant. People will often try to make you bend to their unwritten rules, and will “punish” you the way the Red Sox and Rays have done to each other.
Just remember that the body of Christ comprises Red Sox and Rays. Jews and Gentiles. Rich and poor. Young and Old. Former enemies of all kinds. There are bound to be “unwritten rules” that will be broken. That happens. The good news is that the same gospel which brings people together frees people to worship and serve God in different ways, with different gifts, with different styles, with different pre-suppositions and differing theology. Instead of fleeing, stand firm and remind the rule upholding party that the gospel frees us from following all unwritten rules. In Steve Brown’s Scandalous Freedom, he reminds us that people only have power over us when we give in to them. So wear what you want, school how you feel is best, worship with arms raised high or hands in your pockets. Let your church be the place where the gospel is hid so deeply into our hearts that we can’t help but show grace and let others trample over our own “unwritten rules.” Jesus has already triumphed over the only rules that count and has set us free to follow His.