When Tradition Corrupts

With summer soon upon us, I can't help but get a little bit giddy with anticipation when I think about all the fun activities that the warm weather brings with it. More daylight means more time outdoors and the smell of meat on the grill will soon be an everyday occurrence. Now that my family has relocated to the coast, the sounds of boats are filling the air, salty breezes are a bit more salty, and the ocean seems to be taking on a new life. Summer brings with it family traditions and rituals that I've enjoyed since I was a kid such as trips to the beach, going to the pool, drinking sweet tea on the porch at sunset, and spending more time with friends and neighbors.

Traditions can be really good things. In fact, if it were not for the traditions passed down to us from previous generations, much of our cultural heritage would be lost. There is a certain level of appreciation that can be garnered from looking to the past. How could man survive without college football tailgates in August, hot dogs and fireworks on the 4th of July, and homemade ice cream on the back porch?

Traditions can also be really dangerous. This is especially true if they keep us handcuffed to stagnate customs and rituals that move us backward instead of forward. For the past few years I have been more aware than ever of how traditions and customs are observed in the church in America and I have been struck by a fair share of the good and the bad. It is good that we keep to the theology upon which our faith stands rather than bow to the new and chic teachings of liberal thinking hipsters who stray so far from the truth of biblical doctrine. It is good that we learn from and continue to appreciate the centuries old hymns that have long buffeted our worship services, for it is from these that so many grew to learn and love theology. It is good that we continue to set aside time for corporate worship and instruction so that as the body of Christ we can grow in unity and purpose while at the same time enjoy sweet fellowship. These are good things that we as the church have done for years and we should continue to do.

However, there is much that is practiced in the church today that is based purely upon tradition and preference which, unfortunately, becomes elevated to the level of doctrine. Jesus was keenly aware of the cancer that tradition could bring with it and He was not afraid to confront the religious leaders of His day with the error of their ways:
"Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written: These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. They worship Me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commands of men. Disregarding the command of God, you keep the tradition of men." He also said to them, "You completely invalidate God's command in order to maintain your tradition! For Moses said: Honor your father and your mother; and Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must be put to death. But you say, 'If a man tells his father or mother: Whatever benefit you might have received from me is Corban'" (that is, a gift [committed to the temple]), "you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. You revoke God's word by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many other similar things." (Mark 7:6-13)
In Jesus' day, the Jewish religious leaders elevated their own traditions and preferences above what was actually written in Scripture and He strongly spoke out against it. I believe that He would do the same today.

Tradition isn't necessarily bad, but it certainly can be. When the lack of coat and tie, the inclusion of temporary praise music over hymns, the insistence on reading and preaching from only one version of the Bible, and countless committees that make church more of a chore (just to name a few) take precedence over the gospel and our freedom in Christ, then tradition most certainly has been a corrupting force. May we be more swayed by the glory of God and His gospel than we are by the opinions of selfish men.

1 comment:

John Runyan said...

Amen (let it be or come to pass) brother - as Pastor Mark used to say....'with a Bible in hand and a smile on your face' - to me that has always meant: Bible in hand, central purpose of our time together, the facilitator of our fellowship, the common bond, the lamp to our path, the tool central to God's revelation of understanding imparted to us.
The Smile - the joy, the accepting nature, the eye for virtue in others and within the fellowship of a faith family, the confidence we have in Christ.
We must be vigilant and protective of the Word and the Smile. The peripheral distractions that lead to dissent are not of the Lord, they are the result of our natural weakness to the influences of the world, selfish in nature, and only overcome by living by faith and feeding the precious gift of the indwelled Holy Spirit

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