Christianity 201

September 2, 2015

The Conflict Between Tradition and Jesus

Jesus and Traditions

by Clarke Dixon

When a Baptist preacher announces that he is about to preach a sermon focused on tradition you can usually guess what is coming up. Said preacher will be looking to encourage the trading of stale churchy traditions for new “attractive” ones. But I’m not going there for many reasons including one very simple one. When Jesus spoke about tradition he did not go there. He had much bigger fish to fry. There was a much greater problem with tradition that he needed to address:

1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines. ’ 8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition Mark 7:1-8 (emphasis mine)

We should be struck by the possibility that we too might “abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition” (v.8). The word tradition literally means “to give over” or as we more commonly think of it, “to hand down.” What traditions are handed down to us that are in conflict with the things God would have us think and do? What traditions are handed over from people around us that likewise do not lead us to honor God? The tricky thing with traditions is that we often keep them without thinking about them or questioning them. It is so easy to just keep doing the done thing without realizing that in doing so we dishonor God. Do the accepted traditions of our families, friends, and society honor God?

Jesus continues:

9 Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die. ’ 11 But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God) — 12 then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this Mark 7:8-13 (emphasis mine)

Jesus gives an example of people declaring that something was dedicated to God as an excuse for not helping their own family with their own wealth. So the accepted tradition of the day distracted from the keeping of what God had said ought to be done. This is just one example: “you do many things like this” (v.13). The question for us is: do we also do many things like this? Do we ever distract from and “make void” the Word of God through traditions we keep? Here are some possibilities:

  • We make void the Word of God when we justify sinful practices by appealing to a few verses of the Bible rather than looking to the whole message. A very sad example can be given of those who would use the Bible to justify slavery. The following of Jesus meant a transformation of slavery. We see an example of this in the wonderful and short book of Philemon where Paul encourages Philemon to welcome back his thieving runaway slave Onesimus: “that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother.” (Philemon 15,16) Yes, slavery is found in the Bible, but so too is the focus on serving others as Jesus served, including slaves. Jesus is our example. To appeal instead to the traditions of the societies of Bible times is to make void the Word of God.
  • We make void the Word of God when we allow church-taught traditions to usurp or confuse Biblical belief and practice. As examples, traditions around purgatory add confusion to what the Bible teaches about salvation. Traditions around praying to the saints, no matter how meaningful some might find the practice, adds confusion to what the Bible teaches about prayer. We must be careful we root our beliefs and activities in God’s Word, not church tradition.
  • We make void the Word of God when we allow misconceptions to persist. For example there is a common misconception that God is judgemental and mean in the Old Testament, but nice in the New. God is consistently represented as holy, therefore a God of justice and judgement, and gracious, therefore a God of mercy, in both the Old and New Testaments. The expression “God is love” is consistent. Misconceptions can become traditions that are handed over or down, making void what the Bible really teaches.
  • We make void the Word of God when we keep society’s traditions around conversation. There is a tradition in Canada that we would rather talk about weather, hockey, and politics than about religion. And if we do talk about religion we certainly do not want to talk about sin. This tradition runs so deep in our society that it is sometimes even kept in churches. We say things like: “Jesus welcomes everyone, so don’t talk about sin or people won’t feel very welcome.”  The intentions are good, the result is not: God is dishonored by our sin and our sin persists in part because we are not talking about it. The Bible talks about it. We make void the Word of God when we don’t.
  • We make void the Word of God when we allow media to tell us what Christianity is all about. If you were to base your knowledge of Christian theology on what is said or sung in popular culture you would think that Christianity is focused on “good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell.” Rather, Christianity is focused on Jesus Christ. It is not just about getting to heaven and there are no good people who can get to heaven anyway. It is about Jesus being alive and Lord. It is about relationship with God made possible through Jesus dealing with our sin on the cross, relationship that changes everything now and in our lives beyond death. We make void the Word of God when we make popular media our source of Christian teaching rather than the Bible.

So should we trade stale churchy traditions for new attractive ones? The more pressing questions are: Are we abandoning the commandment of God to hold to human traditions? Are we making void the Word of God through our human traditions?

All scripture verses are taken from the NRSV

Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada

August 5, 2015

Knowing Our History

Church History 2


Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

 

Today we pay a return visit to the website GCD (Gospel-Centered Discipleship) and this time around the featured writer is Dallas-Fort Worth pastor Zachary Lee. To read this at source, click the title below.

9 Basic Reasons to Study Church History

For many, just the word “history” brings up bad memories from high school.  When I hear the word “history,” I think of random things such as Charlemagne, carpet-baggers, Huguenots, dates, times, presidents, and a bunch of things I forgot until we studied WWII (which was actually interesting).

For most Christians, church history is the same way. We don’t really know much about it. We know a little about the Apostles in the book of Acts, then there is a bunch of stuff we think is weird and too “Catholic,” and then there is the Reformation, and here we are today with prosperity preachers and Joel Osteen.

So is church history important? Is it useful for discipleship? How much should we study it? My hope is to briefly sketch why I think church history is important for evangelicals today and is actually a gift from God to help us understand how to apply his Word. Why study church history?

1. Church history reminds us that we are part of a larger family of faith.

We have a tendency to think the church really began in our lifetime with cool pastors, conferences, and podcasts. Or, we have a tendency to think the church really began at the Reformation. We forget that there has always been a remnant. There has always been a true church. Jesus promised that the gates of Hades would not prevail against his church and the gates of Hades never have. People loved Jesus in the early church (Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, et. al.), in the middle ages (Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, et. al.), in the Reformation (Luther, Calvin, et. al.), in the early modern era (Edwards, Whitfield, Wesley, et. al.), and in the modern era (Machen, Henry, Barth, et. al.). On the one hand, church history protects us from thinking our denomination is right and everyone else is wrong (most of our denominations are less than 400 years old), and, on the other hand, it reminds us that we are part of a larger family of faith dating back more than 2,000 years.

2. Church history helps us rightly interpret the Bible.

God’s Word is meant to be interpreted within the community of faith. When an individual just runs away from the church and doesn’t listen to instruction from others, he usually starts a cult. We must interpret the Bible as we bounce ideas and interpretations off one another. And we don’t just bounce ideas off of those around us. We use the larger community of faith including the writings of Christian brothers and sisters who have passed away.

3. Church history helps us hold to correct doctrine.

Though God’s people may err in certain doctrinal matters, certain teachings like the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the resurrection, and the second coming are always held as truth by all true Christians. Church history helps us see what God’s people have always believed and what doctrines the majority of Christians have seen as essential. It helps us continue to pass on the “once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints” gospel (Jude 1:3). There is a saying that, “new kinds of ‘christians’ are really just old kinds of heretics.” Knowing correct doctrine helps us guard against false teachers and religious sects today.

4. Church history helps us guard against reading our culture onto the biblical text.

Church history helps us see how other cultures have interpreted the Bible and see where some of our biases and prejudices pop up. For example, the topics of homosexuality and gender roles are rather controversial subjects today but almost completely agreed upon throughout most of church history. If we are teaching about these subjects in new ways, this should cause us to ask if we are reading our culture onto the Bible and making it say what we think is important today instead of what it actually says. Another example is that in America many Evangelicals think drinking alcohol is sinful. Seeing that this is a unique idea in post-prohibition America (and is not thought to be sinful in almost all other times and countries in church history) helps us put this issue in perspective.

5. Church history helps us see where we might be defending our traditions instead of the teachings of Scripture.

It is vitally important to know what the church has believed at each point in our history and why. That keeps us from “drinking the Kool-aid” and just doing what our denomination says. It is important for a Lutheran to know what Luther thought. It is important for a Presbyterian to know what Calvin thought. It is important for a Baptist to know about the radical reformation and English separatism. It is important for a Pentecostal to know about the Wesleyan holiness movement. It is important for an Episcopalian to know about the Anglican Church, the Reformation, and Thomas Cranmer. The list could go on and on. Knowing which historical actions caused certain beliefs is essential for challenging our views according to the Bible.

6. Church history helps us know how to address situations today.

I can’t think of any issues today that the church has not already dealt with in its past whether that be grace, politics, denominations, ethics, pastoral ministry, etc. The old adage, “Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it” is true of church history as well. By studying church history we can avoid stepping on landmines by seeing who has stepped on them before. We can copy what the past has done well and avoid some of the mistakes they made.

7. Church history brings humility.

If you hold a theological view or an interpretation of Scripture that almost nobody has ever held then you can know that 99% of the time you will almost certainly be wrong. The burden of proof is on the person who is holding a “new” view. This should humble us and keep us from thinking that everyone else was just too silly to see things like we see them today.

8. Church history helps us minister to others.

If I know the history of someone else’s ideas, denomination, or theology, it allows me to know how best to minister to them. It lets me know where they might be off and what issues they may misunderstand.

9. Church history is a reminder of God’s grace

Instead of looking like a bride we as God’s people have a history of looking more like a harlot. What is interesting to me is just how un-Christian so much of church history is. We have a history of shooting ourselves in the foot. However, just like Israel in the Old Testament, God loves his beautiful, messy, disobedient, lovely bride . . . the church. It is a reminder of how kind God has been to keep his promises despite our failures to be faithful to him. It is true that “if we are faithless he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13).

In all this we know that only God’s Word is perfect and history is our imperfect attempt to play that out. However, church history is a helpful guide and companion on our journey in the Christian life and it is God’s gift to help us be faithful.

 


Church History


 

I was impressed again with the thought-provoking articles at GCD, so tomorrow we’ll spend an extra day there, this time hearing from a different writer.