In 1903 the Russian czar noticed a sentry posted for no apparent reason on the Kremlin grounds. Upon inquiry, he discovered that in 1776 Catherine the Great found there the first flower of spring. “Post a sentry here,” she commanded, “so that no one tramples that flower under foot!”—William Poteet in The Pentecostal Minister
On the first weekend of each December, I find a phrase well up inside that I can hardly suppress. Two words fight to be uttered. They were born in 1977 and for four years they became indoctrinated in my blood. “Beat Navy!” I’ve never felt an annual urge to cry, “Let’s study!” Ah the influence of football and the power of tradition.
Tradition can be a good thing. It can serve as a truth reminder, a history lesson, and provide order and decorum. It can accentuate what is noble and praiseworthy and develop generational bonds. It can protect against fads and the foolishness that comes from unfettered thinking.
Tradition can be a bad thing—hideous in nature. It can draw attention to itself and thereby become idolatrous. It can demand fealty at the exclusion of hearing the Holy Spirit. It can roar for equality with Scripture giving power to those who interpret and sustain it in direct violation of God’s instruction. When the church speaks on the authority of tradition it chooses its weakest leg to stand upon and turns away hosts of those who want to love the Savior and not some collection of man-made rules.
Mark 7:6-9--He answered them, “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!"
A visiting family came to a church for the first time and attempted to sit down only to be told by a disapproving man, “You can’t sit there, these are our seats!” Years of sitting in the same place took priority over extending a warm hand of welcome. You can guess if that family ever returned.
Where tradition is sanctioned by God we must carefully uphold it, for example, partaking in communion, baptizing new believers, the reading and teaching of God’s Word. When tradition is God-ordained, it is a wonderful thing. When tradition is man-ordained it often leads to:
My brother, Nate, wrote while waiting at the border of Hungary and Ukraine:
We are held up here at the border because they have to change all the wheels on the train. The Russian rails are built wider than European rails. Apparently the Russians after WWI decided that it would be in their interest to have a different rail system as it made an invasion more difficult. Paranoid? Maybe not. It was one of the reasons why Hitler had such a tough time advancing into Russia. Now, it is an economic headachethat adds time and money to all imports and exports.
When the Russians chose to make their rails wider it made sense. Suspicious of its western neighbors, the communists chose to act in a self-protecting way. Often actions we view much later as misguided were logical at the time of their inception. When the Jewish religious leaders added to the laws Moses established, their motives may have been noble. Concerned that people not violate Scripture, they added safeguards, more stringent requirements. Eventually the additives zealous priests and rabbis valued blurred the intent God meant for His original laws to accomplish. The acts and practices, the pronouncements and interpretations gave the Pharisees a sense of importance they didn’t need. These lovers of laws lost sight of their Lord.
Beware of venerating institutions. Widened tracks may bring security. But they may also block God’s train of blessing and subvert His will. Be careful what you spike to the ground! Do our rules bring us closer to God or do they make us feel safer? Do our practices bring glory to Jesus or do they burden seekers unnecessarily? For example, consider the church that says only the King James Version is acceptable. Is this making a wider track? What about those who insist that salvation can only be obtained by speaking in tongues? The lists go on, clickity-clack, clickity-clack . . .
God keep us from glorifying routine, deifying rules and guarding at all cost our right to do it our way at the expense of experiencing Your fresh anointing, Your inspiring direction.
Once I asked a Catholic, “Listen—where do you find the worship of Mary in the Bible?” I really wanted to straighten him out. He was very humble. He said, “Well, it’s possible that the Catholic Church does emphasize Mary too much, but at least there is a Mary in the Bible, isn’t there?”
“Yes,” I said.
“But where in the bible are the denominations which you defend so much?” he wanted to know. You see, our denominations are our traditions, regardless of what the Bible says. Jesus has only one wife, the Church. He is not a polygamist. Yet we tell people that in some mysterious way the denominations are even part of the will of God! We make God guilty for our divisions, our lack of love. And then we criticize the Catholics for their traditions . . .The power of tradition is awesome. God cannot do many things He would like to do because of our bondage. We are scandalized every time He wants us to change a little . . . We must be ready for change. Being in the will of God means being continually open to change.—Juan Carlos Ortiz in Disciple
The institutions of churchianity are not Christianity. An institution is a good thing if it is second; as soon as an institution recognizes itself it becomes the dominating force.—Oswald Chambers in Approved Unto God
Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.—Jaroslav Pelikan in an interview in U.S. News & World Report (June 26, 1989).
The difference between a rut and a grave is their dimensions.—Unknown
©2001 Daniel York ARR. Reveration is the weekly devotional ministry of First Cause. If you would like to receive these devotionals go to www.firstcause.org and click on the “Click here to receive weekly devotionals” box. Unlimited permission to copy this devotional without altering text or profiteering is allowed subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.
Ecclesiastes 12:10-The Teacher sought to find delightful sayings and to accurately write words of truth. (Holman CSB)