The power of tradition. By Maria Gilbertson
In my recent re-reading of the Gospels something stuck out to me. It has to do with Jesus’ diligent efforts to tear down the walls of tradition put up by man’s religious thinking.
Jesus seems to constantly offend the accepted customs of the devout and religious and with that, the Pharisees personally, who were the religious “law-keepers” of their time. Again and again we find him questioning traditions and habits that had developed out of their understanding of the Law and that had been accepted for generations. They had become part of everyday life, the religious life in particular. No one had dared to question them before, at least not openly.
To them it must have seemed that His sole purpose was to be offensive, to destroy the religious traditions, and to “work up” the people. It must have sounded like a contradiction to them when He proclaimed that He had come to fulfill every iota of the Law and yet He deliberately offended those that knew all about the Law.
For us today – living in a different time and a different religious environment – it is quite clear why He had to do this. We can clearly see that yes, they knew the Law but they completely missed the point behind it. They failed to grasp the heart of the Father behind the Law.
We hear a passionate lover when He says: “Don’t you get it, the Sabbath was made for you and not you for the Sabbath” (my paraphrase). They hear the rebel that offends them.
It is obvious to us that Jesus’ motive was not to offend the Pharisees but His passion was to lead them back to the heart of the Father. His passion was also for those that were being led astray by those traditions and customs.
Were His words not words of liberty and freedom – that should have had great appeal to the human heart? (And they were appealing to the less religious!) Why then were those words causing such anger, outrage, offense and outright violence? I believe that is the power of tradition.
Webster defines tradition as
“the doctrines, knowledge, practices and customs passed down from one generation to another”.
Tradition defines who we are.
Paul tells us in Galatians 1:14 how he was extremely zealous for the traditions of his fathers and that was the reason for persecuting the church of God and trying to destroy it. THAT is how powerful traditions are.
Traditions that might have started with the Word of God (in Paul’s case the law given by Moses). Of course it was mainly the Pharisees that got angry because they considered themselves the guardians of these very important traditions.
I am not trying to say that all traditions are bad. Not at all – that makes us who we are as a people group, a nation, a family or as Christians.
But reading the Gospels in the light of all of this makes me wonder.
Actually to be honest with you it makes me more than wonder – it gives me an uneasy feeling. I am just not sure what our response would be, if Jesus came today, stood amongst us and questioned some of our beloved traditions. Traditions that started out in truth, that were understood with good hearts, that maybe have been passed down for generations. What if He lovingly looked at us and said, “I know you love this one but does it truly portray the heart of the Father?” Would we be defensive and zealous for the traditions of our fathers or would we willingly surrender and allow Him to give us new revelation.
I know it is a fine line to walk.
When we come to a point of conviction or new revelation we often incorporate those into our lives and they become good habits but sometimes they might lose the heart behind it.
When I was a pretty young believer I had heard some teaching and read some books on fasting and was fascinated by the subject. I felt convicted and convinced to make fasting a part of my Christian walk. A friend and I started fasting every Thursday and we spent our lunch hour praying together. In the beginning we struggled with the discipline of it but we felt we were growing and it was a wonderful time. After a while our bodies had gotten so used to it that we didn’t even feel hungry on Thursdays anymore.
About a year and a half into it, it had become a habit and we felt quite good about ourselves. Thus was born a tradition in less than two years and that’s when the Lord started speaking about stopping our “Thursday fasts”. I was offended and defensive.
“But Lord you started it. We were just obeying… it is all for You. Look at all the wonderful prayer times we have had.”
I know today I had crossed a fine line – a conviction/revelation, a step of obedience had over a period of time become something more. It had become a habit/tradition that we cherished but it also had become a source of pride and self-righteousness. Thursday prayer times were still good but our fasting was not all about HIM anymore. We had lost the heart behind it.
Today – 25 years later – fasting is still part of my life but it is based on my relationship with Him, when He prompts me.
I feel, Jeff and I – our whole family really – has been on this incredible journey where Jesus seems to be questioning every single thing that was/is dear to us and very lovingly seems to ask us to come along with Him and rediscover what the Heart of the Father truly is. For us that meant questioning big issues such as how we do church, how we do missions or smaller issues such as tithing.
But my challenge to you would be to allow HIM to come and ask you about your traditions as well. What are the things that we hold so dear because we were raised with them or maybe they started with a personal revelation (i.e. my fasting) but have lost their real “heart” and He is challenging us to rethink them.
It is a scary but exciting journey.