Sunday, January 11, 2015

Truth Versus Tradition

By Allen White

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:17-19

We have a funny relationship with the Old Testament Law. Some of us run from it. The Law is so, uh, legalistic. Others run to it. For some, rules make things safe. For others, rules make for rebellion.

Once upon a time, the “Law” was only one command: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Adam and Eve didn’t have to worry about taking the Lord’s Name in vain or honoring their fathers and their mothers (think about it), or coveting their neighbor’s stuff (again). They just needed to eat everything else in the entire garden, except for the fruit of this one tree. That was the entire Law. Easy enough, right?

But, once Adam and Eve tasted of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, there were all kinds of options. Sin could now be nuanced from the bizarre to the mundane. The world was their oyster, and suddenly they were allergic to shellfish.

God didn’t give the Law to curtail human joy. God didn’t give the Law merely to educate us on infectious skin diseases. God gave the Law because He knew what was good and what wasn’t good for people.

People who were once free to live and enjoy all that God created had now died spiritually and were exposed to evil for the first time. People needed boundaries so they wouldn’t destroy themselves. Yes, they had knowledge, but they lacked wisdom.

The Law wasn’t the total solution. First of all, no one could keep the entire Law. No one was that good. Since perfection is impossible, the focus fell of keeping a portion of the Law that was more manageable. After all, as long as you fit into your religious culture, you’re okay, right?

The definition of devotion fell to the religious leaders of the day. They determined what should and should not be done. They knew how to work the system (Matthew 23:25), and they knew how to manipulate the loop holes (Mark 7:10-12). The Law became convenient to some and controlling to others. It was a heavy burden.

Jesus is the complete fulfillment of the Law. He is the only person to live a perfect life and never sin. The Law wasn’t a heavy burden placed upon Him. The Law was in Him. He focused on the “Shalts” and didn’t make it to the “Shalt Nots.”

The Pharisees and religious leaders didn’t approve of Jesus’ actions. After all, Jesus broke their rules – He healed on the Sabbath, He ate with sinners, He didn’t wash His hands correctly – Jesus bucked the system, but He fulfilled the Law.

The question for us is whether we’re following the Truth of God’s Word or fitting into a religious system. They aren’t the same thing.

Years ago, my home church held a business meeting to determine whether we would change the Sunday evening service time from starting at 7 pm to starting at 6 pm. It was a big deal. By unanimous consent and the will of God, the time was changed.

I would no longer be tempted by the previews of the Wonderful World of Disney or Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Now, we went to church immediately after dinner and went to bed shortly after we got home.

But, here’s the thing – when we examine Scripture, we don’t see a Sunday night service at 6 pm or 7 pm. We also don’t see a Sunday morning service. We also don’t see from Scripture that we should have four songs, three points and a poem in our services. It’s tradition. It’s not unbiblical, but it’s part of our religious system.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against church services. Believers are instructed to meet together (Hebrews 10:25). The early church met in public places and in homes (Acts 5:42). The question is – have our habits shaped our understanding of what God requires? Do we make assumptions about what the Bible says based on what we’ve always done or have always thought?

Often evangelicals look down on other churches because of their traditions, yet how many evangelical traditions have become sacred over the last hundred years without thinking whether our actions were truly biblical? When we judge others and determine that they aren’t good enough to fellowship in our circles are we reflecting Jesus? When others don’t play by our rules, do we hold on to our rules or do we reach out to them? Do we even know God’s Word well enough to gracefully live out God’s commands?

What part of your Christian walk are you struggling with these days? Is it because of sin? Is it because of someone else’s interpretation of what God expects? If you don’t know what to do, ask God. He will clue you in.

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