What customs or traditions do you have in your church?
Candlelight service on Christmas Eve? Ushers light the candles? Snacks after (or before) worship? Take the summer off of Sunday Bible Class? Vacation Sunday (yep, I heard of one church in a rural community that when the pastor went on vacation, the church closed for the weekend)? Members only buried in the church cemetery? Live flowers only on the altar?
And the list goes on.
As a seminary student, I sat in class and asked, “Really? People leave over that?” After 24 years of ministry, yep they do. Wrong paint color. Moved the picture of the previous pastor. Put drums too close to the altar. Start a contemporary service.
Ironically, it seems more passionate discussions and emotional decisions are made over items for which there is no chapter and verse in the Bible that describe them. They are customs, traditions, rules, regulations that got “violated” or “changed” and someone wasn’t happy at that.
We all have our favorite customs we enjoy, habits we get used to, and priorities we hang on to.
But let me challenge you the reader to consider: Is any of these more important than connecting to and growing in the message of grace through faith in Jesus?
Could you still grow in your faith if the church was a different color? Could you gain insights into the Word if there were artificial flowers on the altar…or even if there were no altar? Could your relationship with the Lord be fostered even if the worship music was different?
Of course you could…if you kept Christ first and customs second.
This week’s devotions aren’t intent on killing traditions or changing every custom. It’s about repenting and refocusing.
The Pharisees Jesus encountered in Mark 2:23-28 were intent on finding the “rule breakers.”
Mark 2:24: The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
According to their “custom” (not the Word of God) it was unlawful to extract grain kernels on the Sabbath. This was the greater concern than curiosity about Jesus and connecting to him. They were the “Sabbath police” intent on the “right adherence” to Sabbath law, but they were missing the main point of finding rest for their souls in a relationship with the Lord of the Sabbath.
Customs and traditions can serve a fine purpose. But don’t make them the “end” game. The “end game” is an eternal connection to Jesus Christ. Customs and traditions ONLY are valuable if they foster that connection in a real and relevant way to this culture and generation. Indeed, new people can be taught to value the traditions, but what if they value Christ and never connect to traditions you find important? No worries, its ok. Christ gets them to heaven…not customs.
Pastor Harold Wicke commenting on Mark 2:23-28 noted this:
True relationship with God is not of special rules and regulations, but of acceptance of the Son of Man, the Lord of the Sabbath, as the one who has fulfilled all things for us. (People’s Bible on Mark, p 45 https://online.nph.net/mark.html)
When our focus becomes one of getting everyone to know the rules, follow the rituals, and adhere to the regulations, church loses its focus and purpose, namely Christ. When our focus stays on Christ, we become a church known for sharing Christ’s love, offering full forgiveness, and growing in the Word of truth.
That’s something worth being known for!
Apply: Identify customs in your church. Evaluate each one on its ability to communicate Christ’s love, forgiveness, mercy and truth…especially to someone outside the church. This might be a good conversation to have with your pastor and church leaders.
Prayer: Father forgive me for making the church more about the customs mankind has created than the grace you have given to us. Keep me always focused on Christ. AMEN.