Human Traditions

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Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”  Matthew 15:1-2

This wasn’t a concern over hygiene.   This was a concern over religious rules. The Pharisees and scribes were upset that Jesus’ disciples didn’t pay homage to their human traditions. 

In the verses following, Jesus not only didn’t pay homage to their human traditions, he attacked them. 

We all have our opinions about the way things should be in the church.  Maybe we prefer the way things “used to be.”  Maybe we prefer things change to accommodate our culture’s tastes and preferences.  In either case, we must be careful that God’s Word take priority over everything.  A desire for the modern and the new can be as dangerous as hanging on to the old if our motivation isn’t to proclaim the true Word of God, with Jesus Christ at the center.

Our vicarage in Ghana rid me of a slavish view of churchly traditions.  Worshipping under a tree will do that:  no pipe organ, no kneelers at the simple wooden altar, no stained-glass windows.  In fact, no windows at all (or even a roof!).

But the Word of God was there.  Jesus was proclaimed.  His body and blood were received with thanksgiving.  And the faithful praised him in songs that still reverberate in my mind, more beautiful than any church choir I’ve heard since.

Traditions aren’t bad.  They often tie us to the past in wonderful and meaningful ways.  But our calling in the church is to connect people to the unchanging Word of God with the unchanging Savior at the center.  If our traditions are hindrances, distractions, or obstacles, then it’s time to move on.

You don’t have to wash your hands before dinner.  Jesus says so.

Gracious Father, in our sinfulness we often care more about human traditions, rules and ideas than we do about Your Word.  Forgive us.  Give us passion, by Your Spirit, to connect people to the live-giving Word that proclaims our Savior from sin.  When we are distracted by human traditions, bring us back to Your Word.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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