Philosophy dictates rules; Rules define philosophy

When I was taking the class that Larry Franklin taught, I noticed something that I have seen often, but wonder if some people “get.” Their presentation was very much based on a philosophy instead of a bunch of rules. If you could capture the philosophy, you can figure out your own rules. Many people don’t understand that though. I noticed some in the class who were very careful to write down the rules, but when they went to practice teaching a class they had no concept of the philosophy. You could see them mentally stepping through a list of rules and correcting their actions. If they could grasp the underlying philosophy then the rules would take care of themselves.

Another example of philosophy dictating rules, is living godly. Many people look at the Bible or church and only see the “do and don’t,” or the “can and can’t.” When you can capture the concept that living godly means that you live in such a way as to please God with every action and decision, you no longer need to have a big list of rules. This is because every action gets filtered through the philosophy.

Of course, rules are necessary. They are what help define the philosophy. You have to start with a set of rules or you won’t know what defines “pleasing God,” or “living godly.” But once you can capture that set of rules and philosophy, you will be able to make decisions that aren’t dictated, or spelled out in black and white, in the Bible. You often find people wanting a “chapter and verse” reference for everything that we say defines godliness. Those are people who have not matured enough to look past the rules and live by philosophy.

In the Bible Paul deals with this “chapter and verse” thinking. He says that while things may be technically legal and permissible, they are not always helpful to others (1 Corinthians 6:12; 10:23). Paul uses the example of eating meat offered to idols. He asks if the the meat was offered to an idol does it change the fact that it is still meat? The obvious answer is, no. If it is still just meat and nothing inherently wrong with it, then it should be edible. But, he says, though technically it is still just meat and it won’t do any harm in any way to eat it, does it look wrong to others? If so, then don’t eat it. If by eating the meat offered to idols it appears that you are living less godly, then don’t eat the meat. You don’t need chapter and verse for that, you only need to use your brain.

Philosophy will help you build your own set of rules. But rules are a start to helping you define your philosophy. If you focus on the rules, you start to see all the things you can’t do. If you focus on the philosophy you see all the things you are free to do.

I worked for many years at a camp. We had a huge set of rules for the workers. Huge! One thing they required though was that the workers turn in their rule books at the end of the summer. They did not want the rules being taken by others and used at another camp. Seems selfish on the surface of it. But the deal was that they had a philosophy that dictated those rules. Without the proper philosophy, they were just rules. You could implement the rules, but you would only have rules for the sake of having rules. You had to have the philosophy or the rules were cold and harsh. Did we hate working under all the rules? No, because we understood the philosophy and therefore the rules were only there to help polish and define the philosophy.

Does that make sense? Don’t just see rules as rules. Try to find out what the philosophy is that dictates the rules. That may mean that from time to time the rules change, but the direction and thinking do not. One example of that is we were not allowed to wear FAMU t-shirts at camp. Is there anything wrong with Florida A&M University that makes it wicked? No, but the philosophy is whatever you wear needs to have a clear meaning and people should not have to wonder what you are promoting. If FAMU won the national championship in football and everyone in the world became aware that FAMU was a university in Florida, then the rule would change and you would be able to wear the shirts without any problems.

Rules can change based on circumstances, underlying philosophy stays the same.

Philosophy dictates rules; Rules define philosophy.