You don’t seriously think…”man’s rules” matter, do you?

“You don’t seriously think…” is a format for responding to reader’s questions in more depth.

All traditions are not created equal.

All traditions are not created equal.

Snark Meter Sorta Snarky.002Greg, responded to this week’s “Why I dropped church” post on his blog thependulumeffect. He writes:

I AM a traditionalist…I traditionally believe that we should love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength…we give Him our lives in faith. THAT is tradition. The rest is just man’s rules…Jesus…teachings are devoid of anything dictating whether or not we have stained glass windows, acolytes, liturgies, music, organs, guitars, pews, coffee, candles, multimedia and light shows, or even church buildings…Christians should test everything we believe and practice against Christ’s teachings. If anything doesn’t pass the test, do we have the courage to abandon such beliefs?

Hello Greg,

Thank you for responding to my post in your blog. It is a great complement when others write to you, even more when they blog in response to your ideas. The simple answer is: “No and Yes.”

I  am right there with you, Greg, when you say that the main thing is to “love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.” However, faith as the main thing was not in question in my post. It was assumed. My purpose was the search for a deeper discipleship.

All Traditions are NOT created equal

Your argument, in essence, is: Since faith is what matters, traditions do not. From your list of “traditions,” you appear to mean “practices in historic worship.” I am curious as to why you view those as categorically opposed to faith? Traditions might be irrelevant. However, “traditions” that teach faith, shape faith, and form faith matter specifically because of what they accomplish: the building of faith. To say anything else is to say that the actions of a Christian DON’T matter, something I am pretty sure you would not say.

Any faith practice can be perverted, subverted and elevated beyond recognition. They can distract or bury the Gospel…this is true of modern “traditions” as well as ancient ones. “Traditions” can also be used as they were intended – to cause a greater surrender to Jesus, a growth in grace and mercy and as deep discipleship to send Christians into a lost world to bring the Good News of Jesus.

The “Rules of Men”?

There is a big difference between “the rules of men” (rabbinical teachings added to the Law), and “the practices of Christians in worship.” Let me use one of your examples: acolytes. I have never met anyone who would say that an acolyte is a worship necessity. However, many would say that the procession in which acolytes march is edifying: The Cross of Jesus is brought into the place of worship, reenacting the consecration of pagan Roman sites for the worship of the Lord, Jesus Christ. It is the reclamation of Roman processions in which Christians, forced to bow before the emperor when he came through town, were now able to bow before the emblem of the real King who had come to establish God’s new Kingdom. That is a “tradition” about a new citizenship in a new Kingdom-one for the benefit of “men” but most definitely not about “men.”

In thegospelside I try to get people to question uncritically held assumptions about the way we do things and where they lead…the backsides of every coin. Everyone can see the downsides of dead tradition. Although we are beginning to see a change, people are still embracing unquestioned mega-multisite-evangelical virtual-popery.

Preferences. Schmeferences.

I do not write about preferring one style over another. I point out two essentially different visions for Sunday worship: One is worship as “an experience for the unchurched.” In this model, the Sunday worship “environment,” is “church for people who don’t like church,” as Andy Stanley and North Point Church articulate quite compellingly. In the relevant model the Christian exists as an “inviter” for the high-horsepower preacher and the sanctuary exists to evangelize the lost. In the ancient model, church was to “equip the saints for the work of service,” to quote Paul in Ephesians 4, in order that individuals would each go to the world to evangelize it. The relevant model utilizes the gifts of the gifted to accomplish what the gifts can accomplish. My assertion is that use of gifts in the sanctuary to do the ministry rather than to equip others to do it is a new “tradition,” one divorced from 2000 years of Christian tradition…and one that will not help us in the long run.

Historic Christian worship was to accomplish the purposes of building faith and equipping the believer through things such as having us kneel before our Savior in the public confession of our sins…come to the Lord’s table with outstretched hands to receive rather than “take communion.” Humans take nothing in grace. It is all receiving. In The Church of the Great Tradition one bows before the cross and at Jesus’ name, not out of legalism or tradition, but out of a reminder that there is a Lord, and he is not me.

Greg you asked: “Christians should test everything we believe and practice against Christ’s teachings. If anything doesn’t pass the test, do we have the courage to abandon such beliefs?” I ask you the question back. How much of what your church does on Sunday is in Scripture? The worship pattern of popular evangelical Christianity is bound by song and sermon. The pattern of the early church was Scripture and Supper-based on synagogue and Temple. Those elements were narrative based, and symbol rich. They had a purpose, purposes we lose if we subtract the symbols and narratives.

So, Greg, I thank you for reading and also for keeping the main thing the main thing. That does not mean, however, that all roads to the main thing are equally biblical or equally formative in their effect. And that was my point.

*Greg has an interesting and well-written blog: thependulumeffect

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7 thoughts on “You don’t seriously think…”man’s rules” matter, do you?

  1. In response to Greg: I am a Bible Teacher in a predominately conservative venue. Specifically I am a Bible Historian and specialize in those details and time frames. In the course of my research and teaching I often call,into question the rules, regulations, traditions and so on of men who add their own twist to what God gave in Scripture. I have come to understand some of the historically honored traditions in lit of the Deuteronomy Principle, (chapter six) where God explains the background of many of the rules, regulations, and traditions that He instituted for the Hebrew People…they were to provide teaching opportunities for daddies to teach their sons about their God. In a very broad sense, then, we ought to be very careful about condemning a tradition to the scrap heap of Christendom simply because it is not specifically spelled out in Scripture. They may have been, and still may be, very conducive to teaching about, learning about, and spreading the Gospel of Christ. Check them against Scripture to be sure. But be very cautious about designing religion on our own terms to suit ourselves.

  2. In response to Matt: I am new to your blog, and though we would probably have many lively conversations about our respective church backgrounds, we agree on many things too! As a teacher I often get myself in a position where my mouth runs on ahead of my mind…and I wanted to say that I really appreciate your tone here, and the thoughtful and loving manner you handle the various responses. I am learning from you.

    Maybe someday we can enjoy a coke and a “lively conversation”!

  3. Are you familiar with Robert Weber’s Worship is a verb? I’m reading it at present and think it ties in well here. He argues that the point of the worship service is to glorify God, which in turn builds faith. He makes the same point as you that in early worship the Word and the Table stood central and that, especially in Protestant churches we seem to have lost that, making it more about personal experience. Through the sacrements, and also the liturgy, arts, music, etc. we re-enact the Christ-story, bringing us closer to God.

    • Hi Kokkie,
      I have read a lot of Webber, but not worship is a verb. I appreciate sacraments and liturgy because of the story they immerse us in. I am really not a liturgical purist, regardless of how it might read in my blog. I am part of a mission church that is a multi-ethnic ancient-modern fusion sort of a thing.

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