Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Tradition Vs. Traditionalism Part 2

In my last post I began looking at the dangers of traditionalism, the legalistic attempt to demand obedience to a set of rules--spoken or unspoken--that contradict or add to Scripture itself. We have seen that tradition is a necessary and responsible characteristic of Christianity. The problem comes, however, when the church world begins creating binding rules that the Bible doesn't teach. In a desire never to break any direct command or general principle from Scripture, sincere people have attempted to create detailed rules that tell believers how to interpret and obey the Bible. These rules, unfortunately, often go well beyond the Word and into the backyard of fallible, human opinion. That is traditionalism. It is the Church's equivalent of Rabbinical oral law, the kind of endless rules that Jesus had no problem with breaking.

In this post I want to provide examples of what I consider to be the difference between proper traditions and improper traditionalism.

The Bible says: we must worship God by singing to one another
(Eph 5.19,20).
Traditionalism says: we must sing only hymns, Southern Gospel, contemporary Christian, or praise choruses. The rest is either worldly or God dishonoring.

The Bible says: we are to dress modestly and appropriately (2 Ti 2.9)
Traditionalism says: it is sinful to wear shorts, short sleeves, loud ties, clerical collars, etc.

The Bible says: we must be biblically literate (Ro 15.4; 1 Ti 3.15-17).
Traditionalism says: we must study the Bible using only the King James Version, New International Version, New Revised Standard Version, etc.

The Bible says: we must conduct our services in decent order
(1Co 14.40).
Traditionalism says: we must order our services with the following...welcome and announcements; opening prayer; opening song; tithes and offering collection; song; prayer concerns; prayer song; prayer; song; special; sermon; song of response; prayer; dismissal.

The Bible says: we must evangelize the sinful
(Mt 28.18-20; Lk 10.1-2).
Traditionalism says: we must have an "altar" and invite sinners to be saved after the sermon.

The Bible says: we must be obedient to government
(Ro 13.1-7; 1 Pe 2.13-17).
Traditionalism says: we must be obedient Republicans or Democrats.

The Bible says: we must shun evil things (Php 4.8,9; 1 Th 5.22).
Traditionalism says: it is flat-out wrong to listen to secular music (be it country, rock, anything else), watch television, movies, go to public pools, dance, etc.

The Bible says: we must not be greedy and money loving
(Jas 5.1-6; 1 Ti 6.10).
Traditionalism says: it's sinful to be rich.

The Bible says: God can heal a sick person (Jas 5.13-16).
Traditionalism says: God will heal any Christian if he has enough faith.

I hope this diverse list gives you a grasp of what I'm trying to convey. Adherence to tradition is wrong if it is based on an incorrect interpretation of Scripture or if it goes beyond the Bible's broad principles and makes demands never made by the Word.

So, what are some pointers you can learn to avoid the Tradition Trap? Please consider these:

1. Know the Bible forward and backward.

How do you know the difference between what traditionalism merely dictates and what the Word of God actually supports? There's only one way: thoroughly know the Bible. If you don't, you are literally at the mercy of what others say the Bible teaches...and remember, some of them can be far from the truth!

Hear Wesley's warning from his sermon, "On Corrupting the Word of God":
The First and great mark of one who corrupts the word of God, is, introducing into it human mixtures; either the errors [heresies] of others, or the fancies of his own brain. To do this, is to corrupt it in the highest degree; to blend with the oracles of God, impure dreams, fit only for the mouth of the devil! And yet it has been so frequently done, that scarce ever was any erroneous[heretical] opinion either invented or received, but Scripture was quoted to defend it. [2.] And when the imposture was too bare-faced, and the text cited for it appeared too plainly either to make against it, or to be nothing to the purpose, then recourse has usually been had to a Second method of corrupting it, by mixing it with false interpretations. And this is done, sometimes by repeating the words wrong; and sometimes by repeating them right, but putting a wrong sense upon them; one that is either strained and unnatural, or foreign to the writer’s intention in the place from whence they are taken; perhaps contrary either to his intention in that very place, or to what he says in some other part of his writings. And this is easily effected: Any passage is easily perverted, by being recited singly, without any of the preceding or following verses. By this means it may often seem to have one sense, when it will be plain, by observing what goes before and what follows after, that it really has the direct contrary: For want of observing which, unwary souls are liable to be tossed about with every wind of doctrine, whenever they fall into the hand of those who have enough of wickedness and cunning, thus to adulterate what they preach, and to add now and then a plausible comment to make it go down the more easily.
2. Obey everything the New Testament explicitly commands (in culturally transcendent matters).

I want you to approach the Bible as a thirsty man approaches an oasis in the desert. The Bible is the authority in your life; obey it without question or reserve.

3. Develop a biblical mindset to decide on gray areas.

Some things are not explicitly commanded or forbidden in Scripture, nor can they be deduced easily. What do you do, then? You must know Scripture well enough to make up your mind about things not clear-cut from the Word. Obviously, you can only think in a biblical mindset if you have enough Bible in your mind sitting!

4. Keep your personal, private convictions to yourself.

After you have reached your conclusions on doubtful matters from a study of Scripture keep them tucked into your hat, but don't let them stick out for all to see! In other words, allow others the grace to come to their own conclusions about the nonessentials.

If you feel it's sinful for you to listen to secular music, God bless your sensitive conscience. Just don't try to force your view on another. Do you think Sunday is the best day to have worship services? Good for you for thinking it through to resolution. Just don't get mad if the leadership of the congregation wants to switch to Saturday night, for you don't have biblical allowance to become angry. Live in the Spirit and let live.

5. Don't flaunt your liberty in front of others with weaker consciences.

If you know someone would be hurt (or tempted to go against his conscience and, thus, sin) as a result of what you believe you are free to do, then don't do it in front of him...or, if need be, don't do it at all.

Paul addressed this principle:

Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1Co 8.8-13 ESV)

To close this second part on tradition and the Bible, remember this paraphrased saying from Augustine, "In essential matters, unity; in nonessential things, diversity; in all things, charity!"