Handling Traditions in the Church P 6

How are your Traditions? 

Perhaps you had a tradition that started out great but evolved over time, and what it was supposed to venerate or honor got left out. I was in charge of a wonderful tradition in my first church as a youth minister, one that I looked forward to that had been practiced for decades. It was an English Christmas dinner and a fundraiser for the youth. The women coordinated, the elders cooked, and the youth served. We had prime rib and all the fixings, a play to reenact the birth of our Lord, and it was all set in a traditional 19th century English theme, complete with the appropriate decorations and type of dress that was worn by the servers and hosts. It was fun and eloquent. However, as the years went by, it became skewed. It developed into who got to do what, whose spot was where, whose role was what, who got the money, where did it go, and so forth. Details over planning, over purpose, and what the dinner was supposed to be about were all hidden by our expectations and pride. We ended up canceling it for a few years. When we restarted it, we had a better, more God-fearing mindset. But in the wake, people left the church in disgust over how things were handled and how it was not right. Looking back, I realize I was as much a part of the problem as the solution. Oops. 

When do church traditions turn bad, such as into legalism? 

The Pharisees were supporting these heinous acts and bad traditions by creating legal loopholes for those who wanted to get around their responsibilities while claiming they were pious. They did this by focusing on what was trivial, such as this hand washing ritual, which also has no Scriptural foundation and not what God wanted! Their dependence was on commentary without substance; Christ was the Substance of the Word. This tradition may have come from Roman influence. The Pharisees considered their oral and written traditions equal to the Torah—God’s Law—just as some Christians today see their ministry or role as more important than honoring Christ or following His precepts such as Fruit and faith! Maybe it’s not overt, but many times it is expressed in our attitude and behaviors. This collection of writings, The Mishnah, which was formalized in the second century, is still in use today. In fact, every Jewish sermon I have ever heard uses the Mishnah over the Torah (first five books of the Bible). There are a lot of good insights and sayings in it, but it is not the Truth of the Word. It would be like a Christian preaching out of a bestselling Christian book, but not referring to the Bible. (Oh yes, many do that; very, very bad!) 

What is the difference between a good tradition and a bad tradition? How can you evaluate the traditions you and your church observe? 

Traditions can be a good way to honor our Lord if they come from the right place—from sincere devotion to Christ and the desire to give Him the glory. I personally love many of the traditions that churches where I have been on staff have done, from Reformation Day and Blessing of the Animals to a Lutefest Festival. Yet, we have to beware of the bad ones; traditions and the theme, “we have always done it this way” can hide the purpose of the church and neuter the gospel very effectively. If we become over- devoted to our traditions and rituals, we will surely miss out on the possible intent of those rituals, which is to glorify God. All too often, rituals become the worship focus of a church so that all of the energies are upon this thing or that program, and discipleship, teaching, learning, and spiritual growth are absent, as in reaching out to the neighborhood and the world. 

How can the focus of God’s Truth give you confidence to face challenging situations? 

Even in the Old Testament, this is dealt with and quoted here; Isaiah’s prophesy (Isa. 29:13) was about confronting leaders who focused on traditions and negated God’s Law, which was His Word. This is the classic problem that crosses culture and time, elevating traditions over Truth, which is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. It was then and is today one of the biggest problems in the Church! The leaders kept the traditions in the public eye so they could control and have power over the people. Makes you wonder about the causes and motivations of some of our church leaders and behind the scenes powerbrokers today, does it not? 

How can misguided traditions and the theme, “we have always done it this way,” hide the purpose of the church?  

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Handling Traditions in the Church P 5

Are Traditions Robbing your Church?  

To the Pharisees, Jesus robbed their bank and stole their possessions. And, to a point He did, as He took away their presumptions and false ideas and replaced them with the Truth and the true intention God had for them (Hos. 6:6; Micah 6:6-8). They did not want the truth or what God had; they only wanted their postulations and the power to rule from their self-importance. The questions we have to ask ourselves are, are we robbing God of the opportunities He tries to give us?  Do we mix them up with habits, pride, and traditions?  Do we make grandstanding pretences, showing off our faith while we have a heart full of soot? Do our passions line up with political agendas, or the precepts of His Word? Passion is paramount, but it has to be grounded in God’s Truth, not the ideas and desires of man. Seek initiative and inspirations from Christ, not from traditions. Do not adhere to your faith and practice though the filter of traditions or habits. Rather, filter everything through the clarity of God’s Word!  

What can you do to make sure your passions line up with the precepts of His Word, and not with your political agendas, traditions, or habits? 

In Mathew 15, we are called to not be defiled by hypocrisy or allow our traditions to trump our purpose. Jesus confronted, head on, the hypocrisy of the religious leaders who had elevated their traditions over honoring and knowing God. This infuriated our Lord who called them to task and “gave them up” to themselves by saying, let them alone, which means, let their own evil ways bury them. It was total condemnation (Rom. 1:18-32)! They had their chance to repent, but the hardness of their will and the focus of their pride alienated them from the very thing they said they were honoring! Their traditions clouded them and their people from knowing the real God! Why such a strong stance from our Lord? Because, rituals and traditions can easily become equal to or even have more authority for men than God and His Word. They can elevate what is not important over what is. This is what many of us do today! 

Why and how did the Pharisees infuriate our Lord? How have you and your church perhaps done this in the past? How does your church do this now? What do you need to do? 

The Scribes and Pharisees relied on the repository of the wisdom of the people who came before, and those who discipled and taught them. This developed into the classic Jewish writings, and became their traditions and mindsets. Over the centuries since the captivity, commentary and the insights of another had become the norm in understanding God and the faith. Thus, the dependence was on traditions, not real faith or what God had plainly revealed. Perhaps the Scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus to evaluate whether He was a false teacher. What irony (Duet. 13:13-14)!  

Jesus pronounced total condemnation to the hypocritical Pharisees. Why? Was that fair? How about when church leaders today do the same? Should they also receive such reprimand? 

They had good traditions—or at least, they started out good. What Jesus confronted, the washing hands, was not about cleaning oneself before dinner or eating with filthy hands; rather, it was a specific ritual that the Pharisees followed but Jesus and His disciples did not. This tradition was meant to prepare one before God and give thanks for the meal, but as time went on, it mutated into legalism which consisted of how much water, how many rinses, the proper prayer, and so forth. It had no Scriptural basis, and was a perfect illustration of the pious, fraudulent Pharisees versus the Righteous Christ. 

What does your church need to do to seek the initiative and inspiration from Christ, and not just focus on traditions or personalities?