Of course you’d never want to start a church fight, but if you did, an excellent way would be to start doing things differently from how they’ve always been done. That gets folks upset in a hurry.
We’re creatures of routine and ritual, and we get so comfortable doing things certain ways that any kind of change really bothers us. In fact, we love our rituals so much that sometimes we can’t tell the difference between them and what really matters.
That was one of the major contentions Jesus had with the Pharisees.
He had some extremely harsh words for them in this story:
Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 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” (Mark 7:1-8).
The text literally reads, “The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands with a fist.”
That latter phrase is difficult to understand, but it probably has to do with the ritualistic way the Pharisees washed their hands before eating.
Their hand-washing was based on an oral tradition that had become as important to them as God’s Law. In fact, they often defended their traditions more passionately than they did the Scriptures.
The Lord doesn’t really sugarcoat how He feels about this practice: You hypocrites . . . You honor God with your lips, but your heart is far from Him and your worship is vain.
Jesus despises traditions when they obscure God and our relationship with Him.
What about us? Do our traditions become sacred?
Well, yes. Of course they do.
But identifying them is difficult, and it’s often a delicate discussion . . . no one likes his own practice to be described as a tradition that could be discarded. We’re pretty good at identifying other folks’ human traditions, but fairly blind to our own.
But think about this: the fact that this is so delicate ought to tell us that we’re sometimes just as protective of our traditions as the Pharisees were.
As you meditate and pray over this passage today, ask yourself: what do I do religiously because it was prescribed by the Lord Himself?
And what do I do because it’s the way I’ve always done it?
We should refuse to compromise on the former, but we dare not bind the latter.