By Tony Capollia
Almost every Sunday School class will at one time or another play a little game to show the dangers of gossip. They will get the members in a circle and then tell one person a certain fact, then that person tells the one next to him, and so forth on it goes around the circle. Of course by the time the fact or story gets “back around” to the originator it usually is quite different than what was originally stated. Of course that is the inherent danger in gossip, but it also could illustrate the danger of traditions.
Tradition is defined as the passing down of elements from one generation to another, especially by oral communication. In the Church, traditions are a body of unwritten religious precepts. I would add that most of the traditions of the Church are unwritten, at least at first, but given enough time they are often adopted and written into the Church Constitution and By-Laws.
Traditions can be either good or bad for the Church. For example, the traditional Church picnic is good for the fellowship of the saints. The traditional “caroling” of Christmas songs in the community is another welcomed tradition. But there are times when traditions can be destructive to the mission of the Church. This was true for God’s people of the Old Testament, who by their traditions had “nullified the Word of God.” (Mark 7:13) Satan’s number one target is the Church because it is God’s selected vehicle for the
reaching of the lost. He is always trying to “nullify” God’s Word. For example, in the Garden of Eden, man is given his first command from God, “do not eat from the tree … or you will surely die.” Soon after God spoke the command we find the serpent with his lie that sought to negate God’s Word, “Did God say … you will not surely die … you will become like God.” (Genesis 3:1-5)
God’s people have always come under attack by the evil spirits to rob them of the power of God in their lives and ministries. The Church has continued to be affected by the neutralizing effect of man’s false traditions. As one travels across this nation there is an alarming fact discovered in most evangelical Churches, which is that the majority of them seem to be without power and influence in their communities. Many fundamental churches are having problems with unity, finances, attendance and the “winning” of the lost. The Church presented in the New Testament started out very powerful with a tremendous impact on the surrounding peoples. But in time the process begins of nullifying God’s Word through man’s traditions.
I did not “grow up” in the fundamental church, rather I was in a false religion for the first 34 years of my life. Therefore, after my salvation I had only the Bible to refer to as the source for the doctrines and practices of the Church. I began to see some conflicts between what the Bible declared and some of the accepted church practices, but decided that my “newness” to the faith might have caused a lack of understanding. About a year after salvation, I found myself in a theological seminary and again faced with some church practices that seemed to contradict the Word of God. This time I had the opportunity to study in detail the problem areas. It was obvious that in many areas the Scriptures declared one thing and many churches were saying something else that nullified the intent of Scripture. Note the following observations:
GOD’S TRUTH – If someone is sick, he should call the Elders of the Church to pray over them and anoint with oil in the Name of the Lord. (James 5:14)
GOD’S INTENT – To increase the faith of the Church, to heal some of the sick people, and to ultimately bring Glory upon Himself.
MAN’S TRADITION – Do not anoint with oil, nor bring the Elders to him, rather have the Church pray for the sick person during “prayer meetings.”
MAN’S INTENT – To avoid any semblance of rituals. To keep from having “little bottles” of oil that might be considered “holy.”
RESULT – Faith is not increased, for man does not do it God’s way and therefore many are sick who could have been healed if it was done in the manner God prescribed. Elders do not go to the sick and have the
opportunity to discover what may be the reason God has allowed the illness, (i.e., sin problem, means of “bringing the person home,” to reveal the Glory of God when He heals them, etc).
GOD’S TRUTH – New Testament practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis, at least once per week. (Acts 2:42,46;20:7)
GOD’S INTENT – To remind His Church of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on a continuing basis. It also provides for serious confession of sin on a regular basis because of the admonition of
“examination” prior to taking the supper in an unworthy manner.
MAN’S TRADITION – Celebrate the Lord’s Supper once per month. In some churches they do it only once per quarter.
MAN’S INTENT – To keep the Lord’s Supper “special.” If it occurs as often as once per week then it will become “old hat” and lose it’s “specialness.”
RESULT – The remembrance of the Lord’s death, resurrection, and Second Coming are not accomplished on a regular basis. The calling for serious examination of heart with its accompanying consequences is
also not available. Often times people are unable to attend the monthly service (usually Sunday night) to receive the Lord’s Supper. For example, those who are in the military, or work service industry jobs (nurses, fireman, policemen, etc) are called upon to work weekends or nights on a routine basis. If they happen to have to work on “Communion Night” then they must wait another month before celebrating the Supper.
GOD’S TRUTH – Have man “count the cost” prior to accepting Jesus as their Savior and Lord. In other words, preach a “Repent and be Baptized” gospel message. (Acts 2:38;Luke 14:28)
GOD’S INTENT – To insure that man makes a true profession of faith, and not be deceived into believing that he is a Christian when he is not. A commitment to Christ without a known cost to the seeker is easily a false commitment. It also ensures that the new believer is taken into a local church due to the fact that he must be Baptized in a Church. This is especially true in a witnessing situation to a person who does not attend any church.
MAN’S TRADITION – Not to emphasize the “costs” of following Jesus to the perspective believer. In fact often times, there is no mention of the “cost of following Jesus” in the preaching of the Gospel. It appears that only the “benefits” of being a Christian is presented. The words “be Baptized” are often never spoken in the same context with the gospel, even though Peter proclaimed, “Repent and be Baptized.”
MAN’S INTENT – To keep people from thinking that the requirement for Baptism somehow saves them. Also ensures that only the truly saved are baptized, in that they will not be Baptized until they have
demonstrated a changed life and been to the “Newcomer’s Class.”
RESULT – Allows people to make professions of faith that would have never done so if they knew that there were costs involved. Keeps the “seeker” from really examining his own heart. Allows many to think that they are Christians when in fact they are not.
GOD’S TRUTH – To have the Word of God available to all people in the language of the people. God desires that all people hear the gospel in their own tongues. (Acts 2:6-11 plus an obvious conclusion as one realizes that throughout the Bible God speaks to man in the “common language” of the people.)
GOD’S INTENT – To remove any stumbling block from the path of those who are lost in their sins. God wants His word clearly presented to the unsaved and the saved in simple clear terms. In that way all can
be edified and strengthened as they clearly delineate the commands of God.
MAN’S TRADITION – To venerate a “translation” of the Bible that is no longer in the language of the people. The King James Version of the Bible was written 375 years ago in a dialect of the English language
which is no longer spoken today. In addition discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls have produced more accurate translations. Yet many churches claim that the KJV is somehow more holy than the newer
translations, and therefore used it in their worship services and teach their children Bible verses from it.
RESULT – The letters on the printed page and the book itself is venerated rather than the truths that were intended to be presented. Many are held back in their understanding because they “stumble” over words that are archaic and without meaning in our society. Overall the Word of God is not being clearly presented, and rather becomes a “religious language” in a society without God, rather than being the
“Word of Hope” in their own language.
GOD’S TRUTH – The Church is to discipline her sinning members in order to keep herself a pure chaste virgin to Christ. Also, the discipline is to be part of the discipling process to help erring Christians to
become more Christlike. (Matthew 18:15-20)
GOD’S INTENT – To continually bring all His children in a close walk with Him. He is a perfect Father who disciplines a child when that child gets caught up in a pattern of disobedience. He desires that those who are disciplined will respond with confession and restoration by the Church. Also for those who have become members of a Church but have never been truly saved, when their obvious lifestyle becomes known, then the discipline of the Church will hopefully cause the deceived person to realize that he is not a child of God.
MAN’S TRADITION – Avoid Discipline in the Church. Pray about the sinning members and if necessary preach sermons that are addressed to the problems of the erring Christians in the Church. Avoid any public
confrontation with the persons who are in need of discipline, as it would appear unloving and judgmental.
MAN’S INTENT – To avoid any direct confrontation with anyone inside or out of the Church. Man does not want to correct anyone but to appear loving to all, even at the expense of God’s commands. Man intends not to “get involved” in another’s life, rather let each one do their own thing. Avoid any issues that might become controversial.
RESULT – A Church without power and impact in the community. It becomes a “family” without discipline with the resulting misbehavior. In my own home church there are some who have not spoken to each
others for years due to some past disagreement. The pastoral staff keeps preaching sermons on forgiveness and love but has not taken any action against the sinning brothers and sisters involved. To hold grudges is just as much a sin as committing adultery, fornication or any other open sins.
GOD’S TRUTH – That when a person is “saved” he is totally forgiven with no stain of sin left. All his sins are removed to the person of Jesus Christ who lived an earthly life without sin, yet bears our sins. The saved person is not charged with his sins, rather Jesus is held accountable. The sins are no longer the sinners but rather they have totally become Jesus’ sins. (Romans 4:8, 1Corinthians 6:9-11, Hebrews 8:12;9:14, Revelation 1:5)
GOD’S INTENT – To demonstrate His love for man by totally forgiving his sins and truly creating a new person. God’s forgiveness serves as an example for Christians in the type of forgiveness they are to have
for one another. This total forgiveness stands as an example for the entire unbelieving world, in that, regardless of the type or the amount of sin a person has committed that they can receive total forgiveness and be used in the ministry of the Church as if they had never committed one sin!
MAN’S TRADITION – To preach a Gospel of total forgiveness but do not allow all Christians to be treated equally in regards to availability of Church ministry. For example, in most Churches a divorced person
(prior to salvation) is not allowed the same opportunities to minister as does a believer who had not been divorced in their lives prior to salvation.
MAN’S INTENT – To maintain a very pure Church by keeping those who had committed any major sins in their lives (divorce, abortion, murder, homosexuality, drunkenness, etc) from holding any position of
prominence or leadership thereby maintaining a very pure example to the flock.
RESULT – The unbelieving world is confused. On one hand they hear a gospel of total forgiveness yet in actual practice certain Christians are treated in a restrictive manner due to some “past sin.” They see
God’s forgiveness being somewhat limited since the Church remembers the sins of some believers. Christians are likewise confused and held back from the blessings that accompany the use of their spiritual
gifts. The Church is robbed of much Power due to a large number of Spiritual Gifts not being allowed to be used for the Body. Many Christians are made to feel second classed as they see others who have unrestricted ministry because their sins were not so public as divorce.
GOD’S TRUTH – That the Church Leadership is to be made up of “redeemed sinners,” to include a variety of backgrounds (i.e., public sins and non- public ones!). (Moses, David, Paul, Stephen, Timothy, 1Timothy
GOD’S INTENT – To demonstrate His glory to all in that He can take sinful man and use him for His glory. He can take a mass murderer like Saul of Tarsus and sovereignly change his life and use him as the
Greatest Apostle of the New Testament. God also intends that the Church be a testimony of the saving power of God in that even some of it’s very leaders were once evildoers, but who have been washed by the
Blood of Jesus!
MAN’S TRADITION – The leadership of the Church should not only be holy and godly men in the present life but also should come from a “pure background.” Ideally they will have become Christians at an early age (5yrs of age ideal!) and have attended all the “right” Christian schools and never have committed any “gross public sin” (i.e., murder, abortion, divorce, theft, homosexuality, adultery, drunkenness, etc.).
Given a choice between two equally qualified applicants for Church Leadership, then chose the one who has the “purer background” to include pre-salvation life, even if both are spiritually qualified.
MAN’S INTENT – To mandate a pure leadership, even making it more restrictive than God has declared. Having holy pure men in leadership that can serve as examples both to the saved and to the unsaved as to
what a Christian should be.
RESULT – A Church that is unable to select the man that God has “picked” for leadership positions. By removing from consideration all those who had wicked pasts, then God can no longer provide the Church
a “Paul” (former mass murderer) or a “Moses” (committed murder after salvation), or a David” (committed adultery and murder as a believer). The unbelievers see a Church ruled by those who have little or no understanding of their sin or lifestyle. The “lost” also see a very limited Gospel message that says, “if you give your life to Jesus, then He will wash away all your sins, except for the gross ones which will be remembered and cause disqualification to Christian Service.”
My dear friends, the above listing was only a brief summary of the areas in the Church that need to be revamped. It was a very slow process changing from the Truths of the Scriptures to the Traditions
of Man. Satan was there deceiving the Church into believing that God did “not go far enough” and that man could add to God’s commands by making up some of their own.
I have had the privilege of “seeing” Churches that were not “steeped” into man’s traditions and can say that they were very powerful church bodies with a dynamic impact in their communities. Nothing burdens my heart more than to see Christian Churches that are weak and powerless in their communities. The answer to most is to return to the Power of the Word of God, by heeding the words of Jesus Christ, “You nullify the Word of God for the sake of your tradition.”
January 8, 1987