But It’s Tradition!
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’”
I’ve been thinking lately about comfort zones. Most of us who have attended church for a period of time have multiple comfort zones. We have our favorite place to sit on Sunday, our favorite worship leader, our favorite style of preaching, even our favorite place to park in the parking lot. We get uncomfortable when the order of service is changed or someone suggests a view on a particular scripture or topic that is different from what we’ve been taught. It leads me to ask the question: Who or what are we following? As we can see from the above scripture, there is real danger in following habit or tradition blindly. Traditions in and of themselves are not bad, but we need to test them to know if they are truly of God. Whether a traditional way of worshiping at your church or a traditional point of view, sometimes God is asking us to be willing to let go of tradition and move to a deeper place. Sometimes God is moving in a new way, like a fresh wind, to accomplish His purpose. Isaiah 43:19 says “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Though the character of God does not change, there are seasons for everything and if we are married to tradition or our comfort zone, we may miss the move of God completely.
When I was young, we used to play the game of Telephone. Everyone stands in a line or circle, and the first person whispers something into the next person’s ear. That person passes it on to the person next to them and so on, until the last person in line shares out loud what they were told. Inevitably, the message is completely (and often hilariously) different than what was originally communicated. The same happens in the church when we blindly follow tradition. Though it may be unintentional, we may have been taught incorrect things about God or scripture, because of a misinterpretation of that scripture or because no one questioned tradition or church leaders and didn’t realize how far from God’s Word they actually were (just like the Pharisees in the above text). We need to be willing to ask, why do we do this or that thing in service? Is our way of reaching out to the community working or do we need to ask God to show us a new way? Is that really what that scripture means or is it being taken out of context? Does scripture truly support the traditions we have in our church? Are we as a church body really moving deeper into the things of God or are we at the same place spiritually we were 10 years ago? We also need to ask these questions of ourselves individually. Am I truly pursuing God and where He is going, or am I pursuing whatever is familiar so I can stay where it’s comfortable? If our goal is to maintain a state of homeostasis (i.e. “but we’ve always done it that way!!”) then I would argue we are not pursuing God, but clinging to anything that will help us avoid change. When was the last time you felt truly excited about what God is doing in your life? When was the last time you felt God expanding your understanding of Him and His ways? How long has it been since you could honestly say God has stretched your faith? If you find yourself answering “well, it’s been awhile…” then maybe it’s time to ask God to show you where He wants you to grow next, both as an individual and as a church body. Life is about God’s Kingdom and where it is going. We cannot be married to tradition (in thought or deed) and move forward with God at the same time. It’s a challenge and sometimes scary to let go of what is familiar, but if it moves us into the deeper things of God, it is absolutely worth it!