Let’s talk about boundaries and barriers. We all need boundaries and sometimes we need barriers. Boundaries have clear demarkations, but they are permeable. Barriers also have clear demarkations but they are impermeable, though not insurmountable.
Boundaries help define who we are, and who we are not, as individuals and as groups both formal and informal. Barriers do much the same but because they are defensive in nature they tend to define the other as unacceptable, perhaps even as enemy. Boundaries, on the other hand, being permeable, tend to invite the other to come in, explore, and possibly decide become a friend or member. In suburban terms, a barrier is a gated community with a manned guard post. A boundary is a low picket fence with an unlocked gate and welcome sign. One says stay out. The other says come in, but know that when you do you are in a particular place of particular ways.
Both boundaries and barriers have much to say about what is and what is not appropriate behavior in various circumstances, but boundaries, being flexible, are able to make adjustments as needed. Barriers, being inflexible, tend to inspire unreflective judgment and punitive responses.
The words of Jesus established boundaries. So do the words of Paul in Romans and Galatians as he struggles to clarify the difference between the freedom that is ours within the boundaries of faith in Christ Jesus and the lack of freedom that is also ours if we choose to live behind the barrier of the ancient law. That law was not without its purpose. The ancient Israelites were a fragile assembly of tribes surrounded by enemies intent on their destruction or enslavement. The law formed one part of an essential defensive barrier behind which they might become both a nation and a people of God. As barriers go it was just barely good enough to make room for that to happen. Sometimes we also need barriers, physical and psychological, for our own survival. Barriers can serve legitimate purposes, but Christians are more about boundaries.
As Christians, we are to be a people of boundaries, not barriers. The problem is that people like barriers too much because they give us a sense of security in uncertain times. Castles, moats and forts, we like and want them all. They separate the saved from the unsaved, the believer from the unbeliever, the clean from the unclean. We want to welcome the stranger only if the stranger will undergo conversion to be just like us. We are in favor of spiritual revival so long as it revives those who need it to become just like us. To make sure our standards are maintained, we erect barriers, lots of barriers, and there is no better place to look some really good ones than in the ancient laws of Torah. We don’t have to take them all, just the ones that suit our needs as effective barriers. Our best justification is to boldly state that without these barriers we would have no boundaries at all and anything goes. That doesn’t even make sense, but it sounds good.
The question is, how can we become less a people of barriers and more a people of boundaries?