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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Be Careful with Traditions

I have been around many traditions throughout my life. I went to Texas A&M. (I think that anything done twice on that campus becomes a tradition.) Some of these traditions are very nice. Silver Taps honors the death of a student. Midnight Yell Practice is great for school spirit. Elephant Walk symbolizes seniors acting as elephants making their last walk to the elephant graveyard. It is silly but is part of the closure of your days on the campus.

Traditions can help people remember significant events. They can help us remember to do what we must. The ordinance of the Lord's Supper reminds of what Jesus has done and is doing. It preaches Jesus death until He comes again. The Lord's Supper comes from the command of Jesus to remember Him but our methods of observing it come from tradition. Most of our procedures for funerals come from tradition. The preacher precedes the casket out of the chapel. He always stands at the head of the deceased. These things are to honor the memory of the deceased.

Traditions can also make you forget what you are doing. People will forget to love when the traditional order of worship service is changed. They act as if changing the order is a sinful transgression. They make the change into wicked thing. They don't remember that love should prevail. I guess they think there was a great line of succession from Jesus to the way the church worshiped. The same goes for changing the time. (Isn't worshiping at 11:00 AM somewhere in the Bible?) The length of the service. (If God wanted us to worship longer than an hour; He wouldn't have provided everyone with watches.) The way we dress. (I have always been taught that you wear your best to church. --No, you were taught to give your best but you lost something in the translation.) The instruments used in worship. (I heard one seminary professor say that banjos should never, never, never be used in worship.) 

Most of our traditions have no true biblical basis. They certainly shouldn't get in the way of reaching people, loving people, growing people and serving people. They can give people a sense of doing right when they are actually doing very wrong.

Such is the case when the Pharisees and scribes come to Jesus because His disciples didn't wash their hands in the ways taught by the Pharisees and scribes. They were trying to tell Jesus that His disciples were unclean. They failed to understand that washing the hands was a tradition given to help people realize what it was to be clean. Their hearts were dirty. They worshiped with their lips, with their traditions but their hearts were far away. They had substituted the traditions of men for the commandments of God.

Traditions can become sacred. They can become more important than God Himself. They can destroy the fellowship between Christians. Many churches have split over changes that took them away from their traditions.

Some churches will die rather than change their traditions. All living things change. Death is the natural result of an unchanged thing. Many churches will close their doors this year. They will sell their properties, pay off their debts and their members will be dispersed to other churches. People will try to find another church that mostly resembled their last. Don't be surprised if you get the same results when you keep doing the same things. 

The only vibrant churches are those who change. Change doesn't guarantee growth or survival but the lack of change guarantees death. Those churches who are Spirit led are growing in their methods and their membership. These churches are listening to God and doing what He leads them to do. These churches do not forget to honor God but they choose to do so in new ways. They remember that the Bible is the Word of God but they present it as a fresh message. They remember that prayer is life changing but they do so knowing God is in the room with them.

Be careful with traditions. They can help us remember but they can also make us miss Jesus.

Mark 7:6-8 (NIV)
6 He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."

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