Traditions are something like this… A mother was preparing a pot roast for her family’s Easter meal while her young daughter helped. Knowing her daughter was very curious, the mother explained each step. As she was preparing to put the pot roast in the oven, the mother explained, “Now we cut the ends off of each side of the meat.” As young children often do, the daughter asked, “Why?” The mother thought for a moment and replied, “Because that’s the way it’s done. That’s how your grandma did it and that’s how I do it.”
Not satisfied with this answer, the young girl asked if she could call her grandma. The young girl called and asked, “Grandma, why do you cut the ends off the pot roast?” Her grandma thought for a moment and said, “Because that’s the way it’s done. That’s how my mom did it and that’s how I do it.”
Still not satisfied, the young girl called her great grandma, who was now living in a nursing home. “Great grandma,” she said, “Why do you cut the ends off the pot roast?” Her great grandma said, “When I was a young mother, we had a very small oven. The pot roast wouldn’t fit in the oven if I didn’t cut the ends off.”
Everyone loves tradition, including me, and including God. God set up many traditions in the Old Testament to remind people of what He had said and done, and Jesus instigated traditions like communion in His day.
Tradition is all around us. I remember laying a wreath at the Canberra war memorial in honour of my grandfather. They played the last post, we had careful instructions on how to walk, how to place the wreath. It was all very vivid and special to me, and the tradition made it all the more powerful and memorable.
Go to the RSL, support a football club or watch cricket… tradition is all around us and loved by most of us.
In cricket for example, we have just defeated the English in the Ashes series. We compete for a tiny cup within which lie the ashes. This came about after Australia’s first win in a test match in England at the Oval 1882, when a newspaper jokingly lamented the death of English cricket. The mock obituary stated that English cricket had died, and “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”. They burned the bails, put them in a tiny container, and that is what Aussie and English cricketers have competed over for more than 130 years!
So much tradition in sport, in parliament, law courts, schools, in families and especially in the Church! People love tradition, it brings them together, it feeds nostalgia. People talk about the good old days, do you remember them? I don’t think they were that good, but we always remember the good bits, not the bad.
Tradition is definitely a part of church life, but increasingly those who oppose God sometimes want the traditions, without the God.
Fiona’s brother and his wife just had something recently called a naming ceremony, which honestly is a baby dedication in every way without having God! Same sex marriage is the same. Gay couples had all the legal rights of union, but strangely they want to have an actual wedding and be called married. Why? Because people love traditions. Traditions bring stability, strength and honour.
Tradition is one of the holy cows of all religions, including Christianity. We gain strength and solidarity in traditions, but even in the Church today, much of what we do is not Biblical it is traditions.
Please do not misunderstand… I am not against tradition, I love it! Many of our traditions are good, and positive, but sometimes tradition grows in importance and actually eclipses what God says! We must make a clear distinction between what we do in the name of tradition and what we do in obedience to Christ.
Jesus met the issue of traditional religion head on in Mark 7, where a special delegation of legal experts came to challenge Jesus. They challenged Jesus because His disciples seemed to be breaking the time honoured rules of the Sabbath and ritual cleaning
Mark 7:5-9 (ESV Strong’s)
And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!
The issue in question here was not Scripture, but what was known as the tradition of the elders. These were rules created by Jewish leaders and were human traditions which often superseded God’s revealed Word.
So what did these rules involve, and what effect did they have? Let me offer a few samples…
The Mishnah, a compilation of Jewish oral laws made at the end of the second century A.D., says, “Tradition is a fence around the law.” Tradition, as the Jews saw it, protected God’s Holy Word and assisted God’s people in keeping it.
This fencing of the Law probably began well enough, but as the years passed it produced some famous absurdities. For example, in an effort to protect the Sabbath from being broken through inadvertent labor, the devout were given an amazing list of prohibitions —fences. For example, looking in the mirror was forbidden, because if you looked into the mirror on the Sabbath day and saw a gray hair, you might be tempted to pull it out and thus perform work on the Sabbath.
You also could not wear your false teeth; if they fell out, you would have to pick them up and you would be working. In regard to carrying a burden, you could not carry a handkerchief on the Sabbath, but you could wear a handkerchief. That meant if you were upstairs and wanted to take the handkerchief downstairs, you would have to tie it around your neck, walk downstairs, and untie it. Then you could blow your nose downstairs!
The rabbis debated about a man with a wooden leg: if his home caught on fire, could he carry his wooden leg out of the house on the Sabbath? One could spit on the Sabbath, but you had to be careful where. If it landed on the dirt and you scuffed it with your sandal, you would be cultivating the soil and thus performing work.
For many in Jesus’ day, ritual replaced a relationship with God; reputation was more important than godliness. Jesus labeled these attitudes as hypocrisy. Our spiritual growth can succeed only if we are willing to have our hearts and outward actions changed according to God’s Word, not man’s bright ideas.
Before we start feeling too pious, let’s pause to remember that we all have traditions in Church and worship. Yes, even in Ignite, we have traditions. We share communion every week, that’s a tradition. Some of us dressing nice for Church. We start with worship the same way every week… tradition again! These may be good, some perhaps not so good, and none of them seem as absurd as the Mishnah traditions.
I’ve often heard people in Pentecostal churches refer to another churches as “traditional”, but don’t be fooled, we Pentecostals are as traditional as they are, just in different ways. They have responsive readings, we pray in a certain way. We dunk, they sprinkle. We raise our hands, they do not… both are traditions.
Colossians 2:8 (ESV Strong’s)
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
The Greek word for tradition is Paradosis, which is the same as used by Jesus with the Pharisees.
And while many traditions are comforting and can be helpful, some can also take us captive and steer us away from God! Traditions are fine, but they are hollow, devoid of any teal life. What sustains us in our hour of need is not traditions but the power of God, the Word of God and the Spirit of God! So we must be on guard!
TRADITION… THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY
Church traditions can point us to Christ, or steer us away from Jesus. Most of us enjoy communion every week, but do we let it grow stale and “same ol, same ol”? The problem many times is often not so much in the tradition itself, but in our attitude to it.
All around us, people are in churches where they feel obligated to stay but are slowly dying. Some have loads of ritual, but zero relationship. Some have lots liturgies but no life. Some provide entertainment but no encounter. Many older denominations are steeped in religious traditions that have nothing to do with God, and are impossible to find in His Word. And let’s face it, some of our modern churches have the same, just in a modern guise!
And this is the point… religious traditions can be good, bad or just plain ugly. How do we know the difference? How can we figure out and embrace good traditions and reject the bad? The only standard we can have is the Word of God.
But not everything is specifically addressed in the Bible. However, principles are in the Bible. The Bible does not say, “Thou must not take drugs,” but in many places it talks of self control in places like Galatians 5, which is clearly affected by drug taking. It doesn’t specifically mention smoking, cyberporn, cell phones or Facebook, rock music, styles of worship, etc. but clearly lays out behaviour that applies to these modern phenomenon.
It should be the same in Church. We can embrace traditions, sure, but only those that align with God’s Word. And some church traditions are clearly human in origin. Nowhere does it say that priests must be celibate, that’s a human tradition. Nowhere does it say you cannot eat meat on Friday. Nowhere does it say you have to sing certain songs or do certain rituals. Nowhere does it command us to make the sign of the cross, or use bells and smells when we worship. These human traditions were originally brought in by well meaning men for noble reasons, but let’s be clear, they are not God’s Word!
Titus 1:13-14 (ESV Strong’s)
Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.
The thing is man made traditions in religions were designed to remind us of God, but ultimately man made traditions do not set us free, they binds us, fences us in and controls us. Many times people choose religion instead of God, and however noble the intent of the religious tradition. I recently saw a program on notorious drug dealer Pablo Escobar, who murdered, extorted, exploited and fornicated his way through life, but still worshipped at a Catholic Church, went to confession and made the sign of the cross.
2 Corinthians 3:6 (ESV Strong’s)
For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Religion and human tradition, as good as it might be, in the end kills rather than brings life if it is not based on the Word of God and directed by the Holy Spirit.
And Religious tradition often has a sinister spirit behind it, one of control and superiority. Let’s look at what Jesus said in Mark and pull back the curtain and see what is really behind not all but some man made traditions…
1. TRADITION AND FEELING SUPERIOR
Religion makes you feel pious, superior and better than the next person. We think we are the best, our denomination has it right and everybody else is wrong. God calls this pride!
The ritualistic washings the Jewish leaders talked about in Mark 7 gave them a sense of being “special”, and that other people were “unclean”! If a Jew went to the marketplace to buy food, he might be “defiled” by a Gentile or (God forbid!) a Samaritan. This tradition had begun centuries before to remind the Jews that they were God’s elect people and therefore had to keep themselves morally clean and separated. However, this good reminder had gradually degenerated into an empty ritual, a set of holier than Thou rules and the result was pride and religious isolation.
And listen, we can be just as superior. I cannot tell you how many good Pentecostal people have smugly told me that others are “not Spirit filled” as if they are inferior. Being filled with the Spirit of God is a joy and a blessing, it can be a powerhouse for your spiritual life, but it is not a higher rank than another believer. At Ignite Christian Church, we value unity and love for one another above any specific gift. That’s why when Paul talked about tongues and prophecy in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, he placed the great love chapter right in the middle. Why? He said he wants us all to exercise the gifts, but we need to love one another more than we love the making others do what we want.
That being said, do I want us all to be filled with the Spirit? Absolutely! I want us all on fire for Christ, I desire to see every person ignited with a passion for Jesus that consumes them. But as your pastor, I’m not here to be superior, and I refuse to force you to do something that you are not comfortable with.. I am here to serve!
Luke 18:10-14 (ESV Strong’s)
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Religion makes us feel superior, but Jesus calls us to be servants.
2. TRADITION AND MANIPULATION
The second thing tradition can do is be used to manipulate. In the passage we started with in Mark 7, Jesus Himself sites a specific example of how people can use religious traditions to control and manipulate for their own ends.
Mark 7:9-13 (ESV Strong’s)
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
The situation is that the fifth commandment of the law stating you should honour and care for your parents in their age. These religious leaders saw a loophole that trumped caring for your ailing parents. If you “dedicated” your money to God, you could hang onto it and not give towards your parents care.
Tradition manipulates the situation, in much the same way as Jehovah’s Witnesses use religious tradition and control in teaching their people that they have to witness door to door to get to heaven… they have no assurance of salvation like we do, but the sect gets an endless stream of workers going door to door!
I have seen pastors in our churches using religious tradition to manipulate and control people, to force them to do what the leader wants. This is not leadership, this is abuse, and Jesus got real mad about this kind of religious abuse! Again, traditions are great but they must not be a tool for control or superiority.
WHEN TRADITION CROSSES THE LINE
People love traditions, and we in the Church do also. They remind us of great truths or great blessings. But Jesus addressed the Pharisees about this because they were substituting traditions of men for the Word of God. A tradition may actually be good and may be established for a very good reason. However, it crosses the line and becomes evil when it is a substitute for the Word of God in later generations. And that is what has happened to these people here.
Anything we establish that is not according to God’s Word is going to become destructive and controlling. And you can see this in many denominations today, some of which started great and have dropped away to become a shell.
Every move of God comes in 4 stages. A man, a movement, a machine and a monument.
It starts with a man, a dynamic man who has a dynamic, God given vision. Look at John Wesley and Methodism, William Booth and the Salvation Army. Look at Amy Semple McPherson and the Four Square movement. Great men and woman, great power, and great anointing.
This then gives rise to a movement, and the denomination gains influence and grows in numbers. But after some time, maybe a generation or two, people are just going through the motions. It becomes a machine, still big and influential, but it’s lost its edge, it’s lost its Holy Spirit power. It’s lost its specific calling and anointing.
It finishes up a monument to past glories. Man, movement, machine, monument. Where are we?
In our Bible reading this week in Mark 11, Jesus cursed the fig tree which was in bloom. Why? Is it because he doesn’t like figs? No, it was a comment in the Pharisees and the religious traditions of the day. He was saying, “you look the part, you look and act religious, but there is no fruit!” Let this be a warning to us. It is not our religion, not our tradition, not our gifts or Bible scholarship that impresses Christ. It is the fruit of the Spirit that He is looking for.
Told you I would slay a few holy cows this morning!
Many of you here have come from different churches with different traditions, and I love that you’ve found a home here. Many have only ever know Pentecostalism, and I love that you have accepted and embraced those who think slightly differently to you.
We face a choice this morning, and interestingly this is the same choice that the people of Israel faced Millenia ago…
Exodus 20:18-21 (ESV Strong’s)
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
The people had a unique opportunity, to establish an intimate and special relationship with God, one where He would talk directly to them. But they were afraid, they feared God and were fearful of what He might ask them to do. So they told Moses to go and talk to God for them, then relay the message to them, while they stood afar off, distant from God.
I think we can all agree that human tradition is no substitute for the Word of God, right?
RELIGION OR RELATIONSHIP… YOUR CHOICE
God wants relationship, not religion. He doesn’t want tradition, He wants to touch you. But some of us, because we are scared, because we are comfortable with certain traditions, we choose law over love, and religion over relationship.
But today, I believe that God is asking us to choose Him, and take a chance on a God who loves you. Let us never choose anything, any belief, any tradition over a close relationship with the Lord. I love most of our traditions, but I refuse to let whether you speak in tongues or not, whether you prophesy or not, whether you like hymns or like popular songs, whether you’ve been baptised in water or baptised in the Spirit, I refuse to let that stand between us!
Unity is where the Lord bestows blessing, and God has called Ignite to be a church of unity! We must be one in the Spirit, and while we may not see eye to eye, we can still walk hand in hand and arm in arm.
2 Timothy 2:23-24 (ESV Strong’s)
Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,
Church, we stand on the brink of something Mighty here at Ignite. God is unrolling, unfurling a vision before me that is the most exciting I have ever been a part of. And you are a part of it too! So let us agree to set aside the things that separate, even if you think you are right, and let us agree to love first and foremost. Let us agree that our standard is simply the Bible. If it’s in here, it’s in. If it’s not, it’s not!
But ultimately we face the same decision the people of Israel faced… rules or relationship. This is why I continue to remind you of the Bible reading plan. I’m not trying to control you, but if you read this every day, just 2 chapters a day, then you will grow your relationship. If not this plan, do another, but will you covenant with me to endeavour to read His Word and pray every day? Tun off Facebook, click the TV off and read or listen to 2 chapters a day. Then you will discover life abundantly, a greater life in God than you have ever experienced, and all the things you need will be added to you.
Matthew 6:33 (ESV Strong’s)
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.