Saturday, July 21, 2007

Jesus and Tradition

In Matthew 15:1-20 and Mark 7:1-23, when the examiners from Jerusalem came to Jesus (presumably still at Gennesaret) to quiz Him about His beliefs, they started with the wrong question:

"Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?"

The disciples didn't wash their hands before they ate, apparently.

Good tradition. Good hygiene. Nothing wrong with it. Just not law. You won't find it as a command in the Old Testament, except for Aaron and his sons before performing the sacrifice. It was tradition.

Jesus' answer was itself a question: "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?"

Then He went on to decry their "Corban" tradition, saying that it nullified the law of God, which was to provide for aging parents. God could get by without the money.

He said, "And you do many things like that."

The principle I draw from this is that there may be nothing intrinsically wrong with a tradition, but it is wrong to attribute it to God and enforce it as law ... and when it comes to a showdown between what God wants and what man wants, God must win.

Do we Christians do many things like that?

15 comments:

mmlace said...

Unfortunately, I'm afraid we do. There are many in our fellowship who cling to tradition. This past Sunday morning, I was at a little bitty church, with mostly old people, in the middle of nowhere. While there, I heard a sermon that almost made me angry. The preacher took a verse from my favorite book of the Bible and ripped it outta context before preaching on it. He took Heb. 8:5 and used it to tell us that we must do everything "according to the pattern." I'm sure you can imagine how the rest of the sermon went. The whole time, on the inside, I was screaming, "No. That's not what this is about!" Yet whenever I would start to get angry, you know what kept coming ot mind? Your question, "Do we really need them?" Sometimes that's a challenge for me...to remember that we really do need them, and that I'm called to love and accept those whose views are so incredibly different from my own.

I'm glad to be back and able to read your thoughts. Keith, the more I read you, the more I like you. And surely you missed my comments this week, right! ;) Glad you got excused from your jury duty. Angi and your family will continue to be in my prayers. Much love!

mmlace said...

"kept coming to mind"...I hate typos!

VIC said...

My preferences are God-ordained and yours are traditions of men. Or, maybe this will do it-I am holding fast to the truth and you just want change for change sake. Or, if neither of those will work, my preferences are a matter of conscience and you are commanded to give in to me. Isn't that how it goes? Vic

Patrick Mead said...

VIC -- I wish I'd said that...

bigwhitehat said...

Traditions are good when they are useful. Most of them seem to have a shelf life.

Jesus established a few traditions himself. In the case of communion he even commanded "Do this to remember me."

I think our views on tradition are skewed. Too many congregations hold on to really strange stuff then don't participate in useful rites like foot washing. That is a shame.

Keith Brenton said...

I think mmlace is referring to my post, Do We Really Need Them?. I think I'm going to add it to my "Favorites" area.

mmlace said...

You are exactly right, my brother! As I sat in church last Sunday morning, your thoughts from that post, along with the passage in I Corinthians, kept coming back to me. I almost linked to it in my earlier comment...guess I was just too lazy...or perhaps too exhausted...I'm not sure which. I never did get a second nap. I still think I need one. So anyway, thanks for writing in such a powerful way that your words remain w/me, when I need them most. Much love--mmlace

laymond said...

Great post; can (Bigwhitehat) point out to me where Jesus started traditions of foot washing or communion.(bread and wine in remembrance).
As for the footwashing, example to serve one another. As for " in remembrance of me" if the importance we place on communion, was truly warranted, one would think that one of the people (Apostles) who was at the supper would have told us so.
Or maybe Christ himself would have told us after his ressurection?
Traditions run deep in religion.

David U said...

I didn't know we had any traditions?!? I thought everything we did was because of a command, example, or an inference. It's all those other folks who have traditions.....you know, those DENOMINATIONAL folks.

God help us,
DU

mmlace said...

David, that made me laugh out loud. It's funny! Yet it's kinda sad at the same time...

Matthew said...

You have some great thoughtful posts. I read your one about women's roles recently. Wondering, in 1 Cor. 11:5, worship are praying, but some say this is own in the presence of other women. Do you have any thoughts about this.

www.matthewsblog.waynesborochurchofchrist.org

larry said...

mmlace...
I meet with a "little bitty church" (COC) that also leans way to heavy on their traditions.

Being the only COC within 50 miles makes it tough, but other than a few members thinking I'm one of those "change agents," everything usually works out OK.

mmlace said...

larry...
I'm sorry...i realize that was a bit of a stereotype...perhaps i shouldn't have said that.

larry said...

mmlace...
Nothing to be sorry about! I like the "little bitty church" phrase, and agree with your comments.

Keith Brenton said...

Matthew, you wrote:

You have some great thoughtful posts. I read your one about women's roles recently. Wondering, in 1 Cor. 11:5, worship (women) are praying, but some say this is own (only?) in the presence of other women. Do you have any thoughts about this.

I don't know if I can answer your question fully, partly because I'm not sure I completely understand it.

The scripture cited is preceded by verse 4: "very man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head." It says nothing about women meeting separately to worship, though in some synagogues women might have met separately - in the back of the synagogue or to one side. We just don't know for certain what the practice was in Corinth. Paul likely wrote this long after the church had stopped meeting in the synagogue and was meeting at the next-door home of a worshiper named Titius Justus, and the synagogue ruler Crispus joined them there. (Acts 18 - Imagine the conflict that must have engendered.) In later chapters, and in the second epistle, there is no indication that women met separately.

In fact, in chapter 14, the unruliness or disrespect of a few is implied in the instructions about them not interrupting and keeping a quieter demeanor (and the word "silent," I understand, is perhaps not the best choice to translate the Greek word there).

Secondly, the paragraph in chapter 11 seems to end (hard to tell in unpunctuated Greek, I'm told) by saying that the practice of men or women praying or prophesying head appropriately covered/uncovered was a practice or custom of the churches. I would guess that praying can be done silently, but I don't see how prophesying - or preaching in a forward-looking way - could be done silently.

I'm sure that muddies the water somewhat, but the implication is clear to me that women did speak in the church at Corinth; that it was an assembly small enough to meet in a house at least at one time, and that there is no clear indication whether the head-covering practice was for public worship only, or also meant for private worship.

In chapter 14, Paul seems to be imposing "the law" regarding women in the assemblies, which presumably would have been with regard to the synagogue. That strikes me as odd, since Paul in other works is the champion of the law of Christ over and above the law of Moses - and that, coupled with the uncertainty of the headcovering custom, the abstruse reference to showing deference to angels or messengers in chapter 11 and other facts about the circumstances in Corinth when this was written just very much throws into doubt the application of these aspects of the epistle today.

Paul's position on the law generally was that it was for people who didn't know how to behave and needed an instruction book.

In a milieu when slavery was acceptable, many Biblical instructions made sense. Some might have application to working relationships today. But "gain your freedom if you can" just doesn't translate to century 21 America.

In most churches today, neither sex seems disposed to be rude or interrupt a speaker or ask questions during a presentation or be disorderly. No one seems to recognize a custom that requires or prohibits headgear based on gender during prayer or the sharing of God's word and will. No one speaks of being deferent to the angels or messengers in our assemblies. I can't say that the same circumstances exist as did in Corinth of century one.

So do the same instructions apply in this time and place as then?