Sincerity in Rule Keeping Can Destroy

In the 1964 epic movie Zulu starring Michael Caine, the battle of Rorke’s Drift is depicted. This battle occurred in South Africa in 1879 during the Anglo-Zulu war. The movie depicts the true events of 150 wounded and sick British soldiers successfully defending themselves against 4,000 Zulu warriors.

But prior to the events at Rorke’s Drift, the movie depicts another scene from which we will draw some important lessons. I am not suggesting this particular scene depicted in the movie is historically accurate, only that it provides an object lesson for us to draw some valuable insights.

In the scene prior to Rorke’s Drift, approximately 1,300 British soldiers armed with bolt action rifles were defending against over 5,000 Zulu soldiers armed with spears. When the soldiers were running low on ammunition they sent runners to the supply wagon for more rounds. However, the sergeant major in charge of the supply wagon would not dispense the ammunition until the proper requisitions were filled out in accordance with military regulations.

Needless to say, the soldiers ran out of ammunition and were wiped out by the Zulu, including the supply sergeant major.

Again, I don’t know if this is historically accurate or not, but it serves as an object lesson for us.

Consider the sergeant major who refused to dispense the rounds without the proper paperwork and answer the following questions:

• Was he for or against his country?

• Was he a supporter of his queen?

• Did he want his side to win or lose?

• Did he want to live or die?

• Did he think he was doing right or wrong?

If we assume he was for his queen and country, wanted to win and wanted to live, then why did he refuse to dispense the ammunition in the middle of a heated battle without proper paperwork?

Because even though he was seeking to do the right thing, his method of determining what was right was based upon rules not upon real-world events — how life and reality work. He could not adjust and adapt to the living realities because his method of determining right and wrong were rule-based not reality-based. Thus, the institution (unit) that he was sworn to protect, he actually helped destroy.

This is the sad reality with many Christian leaders today — they are stuck in a rule-based system. They falsely believe God’s law works like human law and they rigidly apply the rules, as they understand them. They enforce the rules because they love their church, they love their God, and they want to do what is right. But because they don’t understand reality (God’s design law), rather than helping, they actually hurt their church and misrepresent God. Furthermore, if they are allowed to continue in what they are doing, they will end up destroying the very church they claim to love.

Leaders who are rules-based in their approach often mean well but that won’t prevent the damage they will inflict if they are allowed to continue in their position of authority. The sergeant major in the story above was dedicated to his country and therefore could be useful in military service but not in any position of authority, since he didn’t understand how reality worked. He was too rigidly tied to the idea of rule-keeping and should never have been put in a position where his actions could impact the health of the organization he served, without time for someone to overrule him. He needed to remain under the supervision of another more mature individual.

The Law of Liberty, one of God’s natural design laws, reveals that love only grows in an atmosphere of freedom. If you violate that freedom and coerce another, love is damaged and a desire to rebel is instilled. If freedom isn’t restored, individuality erodes and those who stay become mindless followers.

Authoritarian people (rule-based thinkers) resort to applying coercive pressure to those who don’t agree in order to create conformity, rather than follow the biblical principle of presenting the truth in love and leaving others free. They may couch their conformity in religious language, citing frequent prayer sessions, desire for family unity and loving attitudes, but at the end of the day, because they find their basis of right and wrong reliant on rules, they feel compelled to bring “consequences” upon those who won’t comply. The results are predictable for those who understand design law. This coercive leadership brings rebellion, diminishes love and drives out of the organization all those that won’t comply, eventually leaving behind only mindless followers who allow those in authority to think for them.

This is not God’s method or plan for his people. God created us in His image with our own unique individuality, ability to think and reason. He calls for every human being to exercise their God-given abilities to think for themselves, weigh the evidences and come to their own conclusions. He invites us, “Come let us reason together though your sins are like scarlet they will be white like snow” (Isaiah 1:28). It is through reasoning with God that we are cleansed from sin — the truth sets us free (John 8:32). But Satan doesn’t want us to think, to reason, to be, as Paul counsels, fully persuaded in our own minds (Romans 14:5).

The healing of our minds and cleansing of our consciences occurs as we experience God’s law restored within us (Hebrews 8:10). It is the outworking of God’s design law in us. It is through the law of worship (“By beholding, we are changed”) and the law of exertion that we actually become like the God we admire and worship. As we worship the Creator God, admire Him, meditate upon Him and His designs for life, we are won to trust. We open our hearts and the Spirit comes with transforming power. Then as we choose to apply the principles and methods of God to our lives and are empowered by the indwelling Spirit to follow through with those choices, we are transformed. We grow stronger, develop new Christ-like habits and new neural pathways, so that when God comes we will be like Him (1 John 3:2).

Unfortunately, the rule-based approach obstructs our knowledge of God, misrepresents Him as a dictator, shuts down reasoning and turns the mind inward, toward self, inciting fear — fear of doing something wrong, fear of rule-breaking, fear of getting into legal trouble. This undermines God’s plan to heal and restore His children back to His original ideal. It causes us to become more dictatorial, more authoritarian, less tolerant and more willing to use the devil’s methods of coercion on others. This is exactly how the Pharisees and Sadducees, who claimed to be followers of Moses and God, could crucify Christ.

Could you imagine if the sergeant major in the story above somehow survived his wounds, making it back to England to have an audience with the queen? Do you think the queen, whose rules he was vigorously enforcing, would smile and be pleased with him? I think many church leaders will have a similar experience on the day they stand before God, anticipating praise for their vigorous enforcement of the rules, only to find that they, like Saul of Tarsus, were foremost in damaging the church.

I challenge you, don’t be like the sergeant major in the story above. Don’t be stuck on the rules but seek to understand the laws of God — God’s design protocols for life — and choose to live in harmony with them. See God as our amazing Creator God, who built all reality to operate in harmony with His character of love. Be renewed in your heart and mind to be like Him — a being who presents truth, in love, but leaves others free!

Timothy R. Jennings, M.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist, master psychopharmacologist, international speaker, authors of six books, a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, and Fellow of the Southern Psychiatric Association. Dr. Jennings works in private practice and lives in Chattanooga and is president and founder of Come and Reason Ministries. This article originally appeared on the author’s website and is republished here with permission.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

The Bible text that best underlines what the author was trying to tell us:

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

As a church we happily move away from that principle - if ever we even tried to grasp it.


There is so much truth in this article! We’ve all heard opinions and personal attacks on various leaders but without condemning any person, Dr. Jennings has laid out the logic of the problem destroying the Adventist Church. And the worst of it is that like the general who refused to send more ammunition, those who are looking at salvation through a rule lens, seem to forget how Jesus pointed out love alone would indicate his true disciples.

It’s more than a shame, it is a great loss to the church, the world, and all those whose lives who could be living in love, instead of enforcing a rule-based mindset. When Jesus separates the sheep from the goats it’s going to surprise to so many people.

I highly recommend listening to the Come and Reason class–it’s done a lot to keep me sane and in the church despite all this mess.

Thank you, Dr. Jennings!


Forced loyalty is slavery.


Dr. Jennings is exactly correct. We can go as far to say that the final crisis will involve just this issue: what kind of a God do we serve? How does God govern the universe?

Despite my being a Saturday/Sabbath advocate, I believe the real issue to be decided will not be the proper day of worship. The real issue is the character of God and His methods of freedom and love without coercive force through “rules” and punishment. Those that advocate for such are His enemies because they commit the most heinous of sins - the misrepresentation of the character of God.

Unfortunately, we are seeing “compliance” committees and hierarchy that operate on the same ungodly principles. Christianity, including our own church, is largely infected with this most insidious of beliefs. But, there is hope. God will do His work and a might shaking and revival of God’s character is at its headwaters.


It is written…

“If we CONFESS our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to CLEANSE us from all unrighteousness.”
‭‭1 John‬ ‭1:9‬ ‭KJV‬‬
“If ye LOVE me, keep my commandments.”
‭‭John‬ ‭14:15‬ ‭KJV‬‬
“I ACKNOWLEDGED my sin unto THEE, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will CONFESS my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou FORGAVEST the iniquity of my sin. Selah.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭32:5‬ ‭KJV‬‬
“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the OBEDIENCE of ONE shall many be made righteous.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭5:19
From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭4:17‬ ‭KJV‬‬

The light of truth is constantly shining, but many men and women comprehend it not. And why?—Because selfishness, egotism, pride, blinds their spiritual eyesight. Standing between them and the true light, is the IDOL OF THEIR OWN OPINION. They can see very readily that which they wish to see.
May God deliver us from the philosophy of worldly-wise men. Their only hope is in becoming fools, that they may be wise indeed.


Nailed it! Thanks, Tim, for your clear illustration of the difference between living by rule keeping or being transformed to live in harmony with God’s character of love and design law. As written by a founder of our church: “A sullen submission to the will of the Father will develop the character of a rebel. By such a one service is looked upon as drudgery. It is not rendered cheerfully, and in the love of God. It is a mere mechanical performance. If he dared, such a one would disobey. His rebellion is smothered, ready to break out at any time in bitter murmurings and complaints. Such service brings no peace or quietude to the soul.” – {ST July 22, 1897 Par. 11} Unlike the war story you used, God’s “ammunition” of Truth to defeat Satan’s lies that have infiltrated most of Christianity is free to all and the supply is unlimited. So let us “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition!”


Ellen White once wrote, “A sullen submission to the will of the father will develop the character of a rebel.”—“That I May Know Him“, P. 120. In writing this, God’s servant anticipated the number one problem confronting educators and parents: How to create a positive attitude on the part of children toward the church. This is the subject in the following letter. – {PCP 45.1}
Young people are constantly urged to follow the advice given in 2 Peter 1. But many rebel. Why? Because without a positive concept of God and what he wishes to do for them, children relate to their church and to God out of fear or shear duty rather than admiration. Religion becomes oppressive, and it is eventually rejected. – {PCP 45.2}
Clearly our duty is to introduce children to the God who stands behind the church’s doctrines and standards.


appreciate the analogy of the historical of British colonialism in Africa.

“Unfortunately, the rule-based approach obstructs our knowledge of God, misrepresents Him as a dictator, shuts down reasoning and turns the mind inward, toward self, inciting fear — fear of doing something wrong, fear of rule-breaking, fear of getting into legal trouble. This undermines God’s plan to heal and restore His children back to His original ideal.”

this has been an issue in the church because we did not learn the truth of the message in 1888 about righteousness by faith in the context of cleansing the heavenly sanctuary in tandem with God’s people overcoming sin in their lives here–all in the power of the holy spirit.

it will naturally descend into works oriented with the accompany rules of conduct, it will become lifeless and dead in the spiritual growth for the individual. Your point is true.


this is exactly what’s happening in our church now…i think the pitfall of rule keeping is what conscientious conservatives like TW are especially prone to fall into…it’s the flip side of the many good things they bring to the table…

so many MH supporters have been talking non-stop about the importance of a GC vote meaning something…they can’t see anything more important than the fact that the GC has voted three times against WO, and that a GC vote must be obeyed by all…it’s so pathetic, but that’s our reality now…


So what is the “rule” that the leaders are rigidly applying? Is it not that one that was voted by the whole, No WO?

The analogy to the sergeant is flawed. The whole church discussed this issue and voted. It was not one individual making a decision about the rules, as the sergeant did, but the whole group after a year of deliberation.

This article is condescending in it application. WO advocates do not like the vote so go to these lengths to legitimize and justify their thinking. Those who believe in WO sit back, look down on those who disagree with them, accuse them of petty rule keeping and sniff a dismissive laugh. Is that really the Christian thing to do?

I challenge you to be more inclusive rather than dismissive. You will not win the other side with such articles as this. Better to try to understand than to justify with such false analogies.


There’s actually enormously less of that happening now than what we’ve seen in early Adventist history, since much of the EGW writings were grounded in practical should and shouldn’ts.

What the author ignores is that “rules” are only adequate in context of the “playing field” that’s maintained to facilitate playing by those rules. So, the rules about abstinence before marriage are much more adequate in a society that arranges for marriage the moment body begins to act out its “biological disposition” to sexual activity.

Absent of proper context that’s adequately timed with that activity, prohibition of pre-marital sex and simulation of sex via pornography and masturbation… is a form of mental abuse and torture in a society that stimulates sexual triggers to sell you products and services.

And the above is only one of the problems that younger generations confronts when they attempt to “play by the rules of the past” when the playing field in which such rules apply is no longer here, and the church dropped the ball on cultural maintenance that makes existential Christianity and Adventist viable in context of the rules that seem downright suffocating, because there are no adequate alternatives in place, and people are left to deal with these issues on their own.

1 Like

Woe to the world because of the temptation it gives to the children…

Just because society does not foster a certain ethic, does not mean we are free act on our propensities. The flesh is always with us in any society and every society has norms that go against what God would have us do. “My flesh made me do it.” will not fly at the judgement.

Will God make allowances for weakness? Sure. But it is the ones in the know that will be judged most severely.

1 Like

Or, stated another way, “Conformity by threat of dire consequence defiles conscience”


Yes, but somehow “I told them not to do that” won’t fly at the judgement when it comes to parental parental and generational efforts to create a culture in which younger generations could thrive.

Telling overweight people that they shouldn’t be fat is both meaningless and harsh when it comes to reality of why they are overweight. We are not separate from the cultures we live in. Hence people who live in “fat culture” will be overweight. People who live in healthy cultures will be healthy. Our tendencies are amplified by our environments.

So, “I am not my brother’s keeper” will likely won’t fly well in context of judgement either when one is asked “what have you done to help that person from falling into sin”. And “I told them about your rules, and pointed out and criticized them when they failed”… probably will not fly at the judgement. Hence the very core of the principle is that judging other people constitutes a failure of one’s responsibility, hence one is merely pointing the finger at oneself.

Sure, and who would that be in context of the above? The generation of children, or generation of parents of those children who failed them?

1 Like

Far better for our church to humble itself enough to stand behind Jesus’ teachings and standards and to surrender those traditions and customs that are founded upon cultural norms of the past.


I agree with this in part. Especially the last sentence. But to not point out to a “fat culture” the issues that entail from accepting such a culture is also derelict. That does not mean rejection of the ones enmeshed in the culture. Jesus ate with sinners, and they flocked to him. If we can act in such a way that sinners flock to us, and feel accepted by us in spite of their sin, yet knowing our position on the matter, then we are doing his work. We tend to fall off the road on one side or the other, too much judgement, or too much mercy. Jesus had the prefect touch.

Ez. proverb in chapter 18 is apropos: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” The verses following discuss God’s disgust with the proverb. Each will be judged on their on shortcomings. One cannot ignore the admonitions of he Lord and expect mercy.

Yes, but Jesus also ate the slaughtered carcasses of dead animals, which we find as less than ideal in our present-day setting, but understand and justify as a necessity “expanded boundaries” of the past.

So, what would and wouldn’t Jesus do if he was born in our culture? What would Gospels look like today? You can’t anachronistically cherrypick what we should excuse in the past even though we reject it in present and what we should preserve in the present, even though we reject it in the past.

And such is the challenge that the modern church is facing.

1 Like

Most experts on diet would agree that vegetarianism is a good choice. SDA’s do not make it a test of fellowship. My casual assessments puts the number at below 50%. A nonissue as far as I am concerned, but some make it a point of dispute.

You seem to be taking an agnostic stance, as if we cannot know. To bring up “cherrypicking” about doctrine implies such knowledge is impossible.

So do you have criteria to make such decisions? Do each of us have his own 'truth?"

If at any time you find at least two people who have exactly the same truth, please let us know.