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?

Handling Traditions in the Church P4

Who or What is Sovereign in your Church?  

Read Matthew 12: 1-21 and 15: 1-20, as Jesus deals with this Himself! 

The tradition of the Sabbath had a great start and purpose that got skewed; it was supposed to be a symbol of God’s sovereignty and Lordship (Ex. 20:8). It was also meant to be a reminder of the redemption to come for the people under the Law, the redemption that we now have in the work of Christ (Duet. 5:12). The Law had strict guidelines pertaining to the Sabbath—how it was to be observed, and not to be violated. These laws were intended to lead the people to understand and know God as well as to keep the peace and not allow people to corrupt or ignore it. Unfortunately, the religious leaders corrupted it by adding so many countless, additional ordinances that the people were too tied down to the extra laws to ever look up and embrace God’s Lordship. These extra laws became restrictions and, ironically, violated God’s law and intent. Think about it; how often do we do this today? 

Jesus reminded them of this and used Scripture to prove His point just as we are to do. It is ironic that the rules of the Pharisees were very precise, and if someone proved a point using Scripture, they had no recourse but to acquiesce to that point. Jesus obviously won the argument, yet they still plotted! Keep in mind: when you win the day by logic and reason through Scripture, even with kindness and tact, the war may not be over. It takes prayer and patience. Allow the Lord to work and make sure the parties causing the disruptions are being cared for too. 

Jesus’ argument, although sound and righteous, would have been appealing to the Rabbi or true follower of God. However, it may not have swayed a pretentious leader steeped in his pride and traditions. This is the same reason the Gospel influences so few today, or why a wise pastor’s counsel is met with hostility. Jesus’ message is blocked by the inclinations of people and their refusal to surrender to His Lordship. Jesus’ message will only persuade those who are impacted by the Spirit, and where His Will replaces theirs. 

Jesus withdrew from the Synagogue, and a great many people followed Him! Since first century Judaism was so diverse, taking a lot of people away probably did not devastate the Synagogue, as others would join in with those who held the same views as they did. This also happens with some churches today. The Scriptural quote in this passage in Matthew is from Isaiah 42:1-2, and is sometimes called the “Servant Song.” It referred to the nation of Israel when it was written. There are four Servant Songs (Isa. 42:1-9; 49:1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12). Israel was God’s servant, yet she failed Him, disobeying by chasing after false gods and immoral practices. God called the people to be restored, while others took the punishment in behalf of the others, so not all would be destroyed (Isa. 44:1-4; 21; 42:18-19; 49:3-7; 52:13-53:12). Our goal in handling any conflict is restoration and learning so people can grow in faith and be better servants. Jesus came as the servant replacement. He is our substitute, and takes God’s wrath in our place (Rom. 1:18‑3:20; 2 Cor. 5:21). He is the ultimate Servant!

Handling Traditions in the Church P3

Synagogues or Today’s Church: Nothing has Changed 

The leaders of the Synagogues, as church leaders do today, would invite visiting speakers. Jesus was perhaps a visiting speaker in that service when He saw the man in distress. He took that opportunity to serve, as well as to confront their bad traditions and their hypocrisy.  Not all Pharisees were bad; many were pious and used their sect to motivate people to a deeper understanding and application of their faith. 

Synagogues would also host informal dialogues with visiting rabbis; this could be another thing that Jesus was doing. Most Jewish groups in that time did not permit any ministry on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was considered so sacred that the Pentateuch forbade any deviance from its practice. Thus, seeing Jesus gleaning or not washing his hands would have caused quite a concern. They saw Him as dishonoring the faith and Law. However, Jesus was not dishonoring it; He was fulfilling it! The majority group, the Pharisees, did not even allow praying for the sick. Other Pharisees did. The minority groups were also in accord, as the Essenes had even stricter rules, not allowing even an animal to be rescued. However, the Hillelites did allow for some ministry and prayer. This group grew to be the majority after Jesus’ time, up to the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. Thus, some of the leaders would use Jesus to help persuade people to their views, while others sought to destroy Him. 

Does this look familiar, as with power plays in your church today? You see, our Lord faced this personally and so will we. Synagogues were also the place each of these various leadership sects would go to debate. Asking counter questions was a classic, rabbinic way to engage in a debate, and is still the norm today. Now, we sit down and discuss, bring people to the Word, and in prayer, seek an equitable solution that honors hard workers and glorifies our Lord. 

How much more was another standard, rabbinic method of analogy. This was to show inconsistency, pretence, and hypocrisy. They did not interpret the Law with any form of logic or consistency, and Jesus pointed this out to them with their own words and law; He used Scripture! Our Lord continues, stretch out your hand; this implies that there is a connection between our faith and Jesus’ healing power. The healing was given, but it also had to be received! The initiative needed to be taken (Eph. 5:14). Just as Grace is given, we still have to act on our faith to receive it. 

By doing what He did, Jesus infuriated the Pharisees and the Herodians so much that they literally planned to kill Him! When your heart is so hard that you block out the Will and desires that God has for you, you start on a path of chaos and destruction that you will not even realize because you will be clouded by your own delusions and pride. We must beware of this so it does not happen to us or to those under our leadership. People who hang on to bad traditions tend to do this; I know I have at times. They had their religion so mixed up and skewed that they saw an act of kindness as a crime.  Those who had political power used it to put people down. To plot against someone would indicate this group of Pharisees did not have the power to carry out their wishes and had to go behind closed doors. Otherwise, they would have brought Jesus into the courts and charged Him directly.

Handling Traditions in the Church P2

Jesus is Cornered about Traditions 

The Pharisees loved their traditions and sought to attack Jesus for not following them; they even accused Him of being a fake for not doing so. Yet, He cleverly thwarted the attempt of the religious leaders to prove He was a fake by turning it into a testimony of His deity. Yet, they continued to harass Him, not giving up. They followed Jesus, trying to snag Him again and again. And finally, the opportunity came. Jesus once again disobeyed one of their traditions. In their eyes, He did the unthinkable: He ate some food on the Sabbath and then helped a man in distress! They had their Jewish faith all mixed up and backwards, seeking to protect the Sabbath by adding more regulations to it, as well as showing more concern about traditions than about their fellow man. 

Because of this prevailing attitude, they refused to minister to or care for a brother in need. A handicapped man was in need, and the love and care he needed was not given. Instead, the bitter medicine of chastisement and condemnation was dispensed. Jesus made it clear that mercy and love are important, and that they would honor God rather than pretentious sacrifice or false, pious attitudes that clouded the Truth. In spite of all that Jesus did to prove who He was, and why He was there, the religious leaders hardened their hearts and refused to listen or even look up to see the wonders at their doorstep! They even accused our Lord of the very evil they were doing (Mark 3:1-6)!  

The question that this passage asks in the form of the example from our Lord is, “Do you use people, or do you serve them?” Remember, Jesus was God, who came to this earth to serve! If your church has a program that upholds its leaders and not Him, there is a problem! 

Jesus went into their Synagogue, and performed a “terrible crime” by showing them their true position concerning the Sabbath—of which they were in denial. In the Old Testament, there was no prohibition to healing on the Sabbath, and it was always lawful to do good deeds. Yet, the religious leaders felt otherwise. This was the “going-ons” of the Church of their day. A synagogue was the central religious institution for the Jews. These houses of worship came out of the period of the exile by the Babylonians. They provided a place where Jews could study the Scriptures and worship God. Prior to the exile, they would take pilgrimages to the Tent Meeting/Temple in Jerusalem, and the Levites would be in their towns, homes, and clans, teaching and ministering. Most of Levites dispersed into the general population and their priestly sect no longer served a function, so elderly men took up that role and started schools of apprenticeship to train younger men to serve. This is where the Rabbis, Pharisees, and Sadducees came from. These synagogues were built in any town where there were at least ten, married Jewish men to form a congregation. This was their church and besides the names and cultural issues, not much has changed (Acts 13:15; 14:1; 17:2; 18:4).

Handling Traditions in the Church P1

Read Matthew 12: 1-21 and 15: 1-20, as Jesus deals with this Himself!

Does your home church have traditions that are so honored, the purpose of your church is skewed or people are not being led in the right direction? How about a Christmas pageant with all the planning, personality conflicts, and stress where Jesus is forgotten about even though He is the One Who the activity is supposed to be about? Perhaps there is a person who wants to command and control and “lord it” over others, or maybe someone—or multiple some ones—are trying to keep something alive that does not make sense, or are not willing to allow positive feedback or help from others and thus the process of mutual faith and cooperation is absent. We have all been there or will be soon, so let’s see what our Lord says about this so we can be better prepared and handle this right. 

Does your home church have traditions in which you like to participate? Do these traditions provide comfort to you or others? If so, why? And, is that bad? Why, or why not? 

Consider this: in just about every church, there are good traditions and bad ones. The job of the capable leader is to lead the people to do what is good, keeping the good ones rolling, always seeking to improve, and being capable to also lead them away from bad programming or reform it back to being good and effectual for the church and the glory of our Lord.

Is Christ LORD, Lord, or lord over you?

 

Jesus is Lord over creation, but you have to exercise your will to move it out of the way so He can be Lord over your life.

 

To help our faith and relationship with Christ and others to grow, and for Him to work in our lives, especially to touch others, we also have to be willing to trust and obey Christ as Lord over all things–including our lives. 

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5: 20

 

If you have nothing relevant or appropriate to offer your people and you are not hospitable to them, you are producing a failing church.

Even if you have numbers, if you are not centered on Christ, you are in trouble and you are not succeeding for Him. We can change our worship format, make our parking lots bigger, and make our programs more relevant, trying to be a better WHO. Our “who” is that we are in Him—who we are in Christ; we are Christians by His love. But, what about changing it to HOW—to change how we are, how we behave, how we treat one another, how we are loving, how we care, how we learn, and how we grow in Christ.

The big how is that we know and then model Christ as a reality, that Jesus Christ really is in our lives. We are learning, experiencing, and living in and for Him! By really and truly being His ambassadors and allowing His Spirit to sustain and use us, we can be used to turn others toward Christ.  

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5: 21 

Remember: real church growth is in the spiritual, not just numerical!  

            The key to unlock the growth barriers is opened yourself to the Lordship of Christ, to flow into contentment in your worship and prayer time. Sometimes that is all we can do, but it is not a last resort it is our front line and most important defense. Jesus is to be our preparation for the weathering of a storm to building a church. He will help you build your relationship with Himself so your faith, confidence and courage grow and be the inspire to those you lead. Then you will be prepared in those storms and crises of life and church life as well as your growth challenges, these will make you stronger and help you help others through them too. When we fully learn to trust, then we can obey and it will build our confidence so we will sail across those storm tossed seas of church life in confidence as Jesus Christ is there beside us manning the helm!

Is Christ LORD, Lord, or lord over your church?

Out of learning why churches fail, we also learned why they succeeded!

The churches that were healthy, growing spiritually, and socially vibrant have significant aspects that set them apart from the failing churches. These factors are displayed in order of relevance and importance. Each one of these factors creates a harmony, contentment, and atmosphere for a churchgoer to come to church services and fellowship, and then to invite others. When they feel this church is “home,” they will learn and grow, then desire to become a member, become active, experience and give love and Fruit, and be able to serve our Lord there. Each of these themes is significant as they motivate, inspire, and spur people on to feel part of something greater than themselves. They become a conduit for the work of the Gospel, the moving of the Spirit, and the glorification of our Lord. These churches are places to know Christ, to be effective, and to grow spiritually—“true spirituality” as Schaeffer challenged us with.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5: 17

The main, significant factor over all else of why churches succeed is this one point: they were centered upon Christ as LORD! They were not centered on a personality, a vision, a denomination, an emerging paradigm, or a set of trends. They were “souled out” to Christ as central and sovereign. Each of these points relate to the Lordship of Christ.

 http://www.intothyword.org/articles_view.asp?articleid=35972&columnid=3958

When to Leave a Church?

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:7-8

We are called to obey your leaders, to have respect for their authority and their call to care for and keep careful watch over the people as shepherds, because leaders will be held to account. We are called to submit to those in authority and to value and respect them, enjoy orderliness, and learn from them. In contrast, a person with a lack of faith will not respect others because the emptiness where faith is supposed to be is filled with pride and even self-destruction, worry, and stress that lead a person nowhere good. This does not mean we submit to dictatorial or dysfunctional leadership (Isa. 21:8; Jer, 23:4; Ezek. 3:17; 33:6; 35:7; Hab. 2:1; Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:7; 1 Pet. 5:2-4; 3 John 9-10).

However, sometimes leaders and pastors are not following Christ, rather following their pride or misguided intentions and thus it may be time to go to another sheepfold. So, when do I leave? When it is dead and there is no life left and there is nothing you can do, you need to look seriously at the situation. Being a member of a church is like being partners in a marriage; when you leave, it is like experiencing a divorce and thus is to be taken sincerely and soberly, and with prayer. Seek what you can do to improve things and always make sure you are not the one causing the problems of division or discord, unless you are fighting for biblical truth. Even if that is the case, do so in love. Obviously, leaving a church is not a sin unless you are in disobedience. There are times when you need to take a stand, and if it fails, it may be necessary to move on to a healthier church. God gives us a green light to move on when:

· Heresy and false teaching are being proclaimed or a platform for that to take place is present and the leaders refuse to repent, or if there is just no teaching and you are not being fed (Romans 16:17; Galatians 1:7-9).

· The pastor and leaders do not reverence Christ or His Word (1 Corinthians 5:1-7; Colossians 1:15-17).

· The pastors or leaders are living in sin and refuse to repent (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).

· The pastor or leaders are over-controlling and operate in the weakness of the flesh rather than in the power of the Fruit of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:33; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:7-9).

· The diseases before mentioned, such as gossip and hypocrisy, are rampant and you are being hurt to the point you cannot function or worship, and there is no discipline for those who sin (2 Timothy 3:5).

· If you are the person who is sowing discord or division, you must leave right away. Run-do not walk-to the nearest exit and do not join another church until you repent and get some healing (Galatians 5:1-23)!

Besides that, it is hard to say; you need to think, seek wise counsel, and be in prayer. You should never leave a church for petty or superficial reasons. Examples might be that you do not like the speaking voice of the pastor, but he is teaching well, or you do not like the color of the carpet or the style of the music or how the kitchen is run, or that someone you do not like is elected or appointed to a leadership position. You need to stick to your commitment and responsibility. You need to be in prayer and ask our Lord how He can use you there. Are you growing? Is there a place where you are needed to serve? Is there anything you are doing wrong for which you need to repent? What about your attitude and motivations?

If you do leave a church, do not leave quietly or covertly. Meet with the pastor or leaders, dialog and give them clear reasons, remembering to be biblical and in the Fruit of the Spirit and in prayer. They have the need and right to know, so improvements and conviction by the Spirit can take place. Or, maybe you are in the wrong. So, make sure you listen. Then if you leave, you need to forgive and move on. Never, ever stay to spread bitterness and division (Prov. 6:19; John 13:34-35; 17:21-23; Rom. 16:17; Gal. 1:7-9; 1 Cor. 1:10; 5:1-11; 15:33; Eph. 4:11-14, 31-32; Col. 1:15-17; 3:13; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; 2 Tim. 3:5; Titus 1:7-9; Heb. 13:7, 17)!

Let us gain our composure and confidence regardless of how many true believers are in the church, and live as His disciples for His glory!

© 2009, R.J. Krejcir, Ph.D., Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development www.churchleadership.org/

Looking for a good church?

Is your church perhaps a little weak? If you are not involved in a good church or you need to reform the one you are in, these are the basics that Christ has set forth. Here’s what to look for:

  • Worship: Songs and hymns in praise to God that are reverent with adoration! Knowing who God is: we are the performers and He is the audience as we give Him praise!
  • Prayer: Intimate words and thoughts expressed to God with care toward one another.
  • Preaching: Inspired and biblical, challenging us to live for God, lifting Christ up, and showing us implications we need to apply!

· Teaching and Discipleship: Solid biblical instruction from the Word of God to spur us on to growth!

  • Sharing: Joyful support for the work of God through missions, outreach, and the living of a life without compromise!
  • Fellowship: Encouragement from the family of God!
  • Discipline: Not allowing someone to distract or harm others through personal agendas and sin!

We need to go to a local church for the express reason that it is spiritually beneficial; and when we have benefited, so will others. Because of what Christ has done to give us saving grace and regeneration that we did not deserve, so we must respond with gratitude. The Reformation themes of “guilt,” “grace,” and “gratitude” show the progress of our walk. The process starts with our fall and our sinful nature, which is our “guilt.” Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, saves us for His glory and purpose, which is “grace.” Then, we respond by modeling the love and care of our Lord, which is “gratitude.”

We need to see our responsibility to care for His church properly and faithfully. His message will be pronounced and proclaimed through us with power, conviction, and in clarity and truth. People will be challenged and revival will break out. We have the privilege to know and proclaim what was once a secret, things that the Patriarchs and Prophets could only dream of. Now we can boldly tell others-in lifestyle, in words, and with confidence. It is about His riches and His glory! For the ultimate secret, what is foolishness to those who are not in Him, is that the God of the universe is living in us, employing us, empowering us, and loving us. He is our assurance, so let us share this great joy and never let it be a secret! We are called to share His glory and Truth! Do this with warmth, kindness, and in truth. Give to others what we have been given (John 10:10; Eph. 1:17-18; Col. 1:24-29; Heb. 10:25)!