Human Tradition and The Word
I was 21 years old when I became a Christian. I started out to disprove the “Church of Christ” people, but knew that, in order to convince them, I would have to use their standard, the Word. I started out in the New Testament trying to prove baptism wasn’t necessary unto salvation. Boy was I wrong! After going through Acts, I changed my position (to fit what the Word said) and every other denominational concept went down the drain (once saved always saved, instrumental music, etc.). On the one hand, I regretted that I had wasted time in denominational practices and thinking, but on the other hand, I appreciated the experience of questioning my wrongly held positions and changing to fit the Word. I also understood Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”
Now I was ready to begin my life and worshipping God as a simple New Testament Christian. But, after a while, it became obvious to me that there were practices, we practiced, that were expedient as opposed to directly specified. 1 Corinthians 10:23: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” It seemed to me the problem was that people thought their expediencies were equivalent of doctrinal practice. There were some who took their practices as if they were directed specifically by the Word.
We must examine what we do in our worship, and how we do it, and who does it very carefully. Too many times we assume that the way we practice our faith is exactly the way the early church did, when many times, our current day practice is not even typical of others in our country or others around the world. Much more so, our practices of those of 100 years ago or 1,000 years ago can be significantly different. Of course, the point is to worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24).
Due to our suspicion of innovation (and rightly so), we take a dim view of change in the way we worship in our public assemblies. However, this can put us into a “rut” of ritual and rigid practices that stifle or quench the spirit of the participants.
Unfortunately, some of our younger brethren have become bored with worship and are seeking a livelier, more ‘spiritual” form of worship. They yearn for “good feelings” about their worship and want worship that will enliven them and give them a “spiritual” experience that uplifts them. It seems the past 5 to 10 years have seen many younger people leave the “traditional” church and join themselves to a more “progressive” church that provides a level of involvement and entertainment. The motivation seems to be, “what can keep me interested, excited and entertained,” not “what can I do to better worship my God and build up those around me.” Another level of involvement is those who want to link social programs to the work of the church. Many of these programs are not done incorrectly if done by individuals, but are clearly outside the work of the church as described by the Word. We should be praising our God, edifying one another, preaching and teaching the gospel and providing assistance to those who are in need and qualify.
Obviously, we need to be orderly in our worship to God. 1 Corinthians 14:40: “Let all things be done decently and in order.” Orderliness implies structure and consistency. Orderliness gives a level of comfort to the participants in worship and helps to avoid innovation, disruption, confusion and chaos. If we are not careful, we can let orderliness become a routine of sameness that leads to lethargy and staleness in our worship to the Almighty.
The participants share responsibility for this condition, but elders, evangelists and song leaders also need to be aware of this dangerous condition and find good solutions to this potential problem. These leaders especially need to be humble themselves, not seeking “face time” in the assembly and promotion of self, but rather worshipping Him and building up each other. This may include working in new songs, changing the order of worship, and classes to help our song leaders and preachers. The purpose of all this is to continually improve our worship in a godly way, seeking excellence in all.
Matt Bassford, who used to worship with us here at Cedar Park, recently said in one of his blogs (hisexcellentword.blogspot.com/Hypocrisy and Human Tradition), “However, when we treat these routines that we have developed with the same reverence as the word of God, we have apostasized. In a church where tradition is not elevated in this way, no tradition is beyond question. Every routine is subject to revision and even replacement. If three-songs-and-a-prayer is less effective than some other order of services, it needs to go. If the traditional repertoire of hymns has grown stale, it’s time to freshen it up. Obedience to Scripture must never change, but an “expedient” that isn’t the best answer anymore is no longer expedient and should be dealt with accordingly. Otherwise, our usefulness to God must inevitably suffer.”
The late Robert Turner, who formerly preached at Oaks West in Burnet, said in Plain Talk, vol. 1, no 12, page 1, “When a party begins to consider it’s PRACTICE (caps mine, jmb) as the equivalent of TRUTH (caps mine, jmb), the fatal step to sectarianism is made.”
Both authors sound out a clear warning; let us be careful in worshiping Him properly and not in vain repetitions or lack of spirit. Let us worship Him humbly, in all gladness of heart, in thanksgiving and in harmony with our brethren.
- Mike Benson