So I need a job. Ah, a chef position would be great! After application I get an interview. I expect questions like “have you ever made Louisiana Gumbo?” or “Grilled Mediterranean Chicken?” or maybe “Braised Lamb Shank?”
I get questions like “do you believe that we should use forks here?” or maybe “we hold it to be true, because of our tradition, that plates are the best thing to eat off of. Do you agree?”
I’m floored! What should I say, “your silly?” Eating off of plates is great – but really, who cares! Maybe a spoon and bowl would be good to eat soup!
Christian rituals, traditions and practices are much like this tale. While interesting, giving us a window into a culture, there is concern with dogmatism. This concern arises out of the observation that most groups become infected with the tradition veneration mentality. Some so revered, one has to wonder why God forgot to add some of them to the Bible. While not all Christian’s venerate rituals, most do.
It is also interesting that many of the reformers for all strips, the Apostles and yes, even Jesus had very harsh words on traditions! However, I guess I will let Jesus, the Apostles and the reformers make the strong arguments. I will just say that I am not saying all are wrong.
Some are great, others inconsequential and still others seem to transgress biblical teaching. Most are “un-biblical” rather than “non-biblical”. In fact, an argument from tradition is a logical fallacy – just because we have done something (or not) does not make it right or wrong. While morally many may be kosher, we need to step back, assess and question them. Many are novel, some are as recent as within the past 200 years! Christians throughout early church history knew nothing about them. Most only form consistency and uniformity, but intrinsically none can shape unity and godliness. They are just parts of a culture.
Some of these are emotionally loaded positions. However, history is history, of which we must come to grips. Here are ten of them that many groups of Christian’s practice.
Around the 13th and 14th centuries, the Church saw the evolution of backless benches which matured into the modern pew. By the fifteen century, pews became commonplace in church buildings . In contemporary times, we see some gatherings divorcing the pews for chairs and seats. In fact, in some countries, people stand and in other places the congregation sits on the ground. None of these ways are more holy or respectful than any other. The Bible does not speak to this issue.
Beginning in the late 1800’s altar calls were born. Some say Charles Finney popularized the idea. They have no biblical grounding nor historical Christian roots beyond that time. While altar calls may have helped many, concerns are real. Some are given false hope. Emotions and peer pressure seem to dominate the response by those who come. The stimulating and melodramatic sermons, the stirring music, and pleading friends and family can cause one to step down the “sawdust trail.” But many go forward without a true intellectual and a fervent desire to follow Christ – which is this tradition’s greatest down fall.
Diverse Christian groups have some type of testimony time. Opportunity is given to converts for
membership, and/or candidates for baptism, to bring their testimony for congregation approval. The first centuries of Church history knew no practice. In fact, Acts records that believers were baptized on the spot after confession of faith. While this is a testimony in a sense, it is not the long drawn out testimony that John Calvin introduced in the 1500’s, which is where it’s rooted. Some modern denominations still follow John Calvin’s tradition of a requirement of in-depth testimonies before membership and baptism . While this process may have good facets, it is not sacred. There are no commands or precedents set by Jesus and the apostles for this practice.
Trying To Hear God Whisperer
Many denominations, dynamic modern teachers and books instruct us that we need to “hear the voice of God” and “feel led of the Spirit” and “God whispers to us”. Proof for this practice is taken from misinterpreted Bible passages. Rhetorically, it is sublime with its immensely spiritual sounding ring. This practice is done by those to figure out the “Big decisions” in life, such as who should be the preacher, what house to buy and when finding a mate. Arbitrarily opening the Scriptures “to find God’s personal direction”, by reading phrases and words out of context, is one main mode for this teaching. However, one abuses the text of God’s Holy Word. Feeling a peace, confirmations and signs are also part of this practice – all subjective in nature. However, this tradition is less than 200 years old! Scriptures do not teach this practice, it does not logically makes sense, nor does it have deep historical Christian foundation – it started around eighteen hundred years after Christ .
Four Part Harmony
Like with any cultural element, confusion and uncertainty reign when we try to find the origins. The same is true with four part harmony hymns, what makes up most modern songs and hymns. While many feel that the “old-time hymns” are the best, and maybe they are, they do not realize that they aren’t really “old-time.” In fact, the early church sung in a type of antiphonal singing. This is where different groups sing back and forth at each other, maybe in response or repetition. As time passed, Gregorian chant’s became the mode of song and worship. Rather than beat-wise music, it was step-wise. Some credit Martin Luther as the one who popularized four part harmony in Christendom. The two great awakenings then introduced much of the “old-time” music that have become a symbol of worship in the evangelical west, and for good reason, it has stood the test of time and almost every group sings these songs! However, while the music sounds good and many songs have some great depths of meaning, four part harmony, just like other traditions, have no biblical roots.
Just to prevent up front confusion, Jesus and the Apostles did not use the “Authorized King James Bible version”. While it may seem obvious to most, others seem confused. Rather, the King James Bible Version (KJV, or Authorized Version) was translated over 400 years ago in England. It has had a number of revisions. When translated, the version was in the language of the common person – everyone could read it who could read. The version that many herald as the original 1611 version really is not, it is the 1769 edition, an edit of the original 1611 version. Even modern publishers still modify their editions. While the KJV is a great version, the language of the KJV Bible is no more holy or reverent than any other solid modern version. The militant response by proponents has its genesis from the 1930’s by a Seventh-day Adventist writer. Just like modern versions, it too has problems with accuracy. In places, text is written that is non-existent in the ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. Ironically, the translators of the KJV wrote the following in the preface to their version: “Therfore as S. Augustine saith, that varietie of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures: so diversitie of signification and sense in the margine, where the text is not so cleare, must needes doe good, yea is necessary, as we are perswaded.” (Old English spelling.) In other words, they seem to agree with Augustine’s argument, and in addition use it to make another point – I don’t sense KJV onlyism in their writing !
While some may argue that membership to a specific denomination had its roots in the Catholic church, with its cradle to grave system, it seems that the Congregationalists had a major role to play in the perceived importance of this tradition. Interestingly, it took about a millennium and a half for this practice to start. One has to wonder why the importance when Jesus and the Apostles never taught this practice. However, while it may have had some good effects, sadly, membership to a denomination has increased our misunderstanding of the Kingdom of God and Christ’s body. All true Christians who follow Christ’s teachings are members of one kingdom and one body as Jesus talks about in John 17.
Bible Chapters and Verses
You may be surprised to find out that the Bible does not have verses and chapters – not in the original at least. The Geneva Bible, written about 1500 years after Christ, started the trend for chapters and verses in English Bibles. While these additions do help us find things fast and specify location, they are artificial barriers and seem to encourage people to take thoughts out of context. We need to continually fight the urge to pull passages out of context.
Sunday School, Children’s Church and Youth Groups
Again, just like many of the other practices and traditions, Sunday School, Children’s Church and Youth Groups are novel to Christianity. Sunday School specifically, after starting in the eighteenth century, it grew rapidly to many denominations. While it has done much good for children, especially the poor and those from non-Christian homes, there is a growing concern that it splits up the family during worship, just as other group divisions. Also, at home, parents are less likely to train their children in the ways of God, some think that Sunday school is all that’s needed. Again, like all the other items in this post, this practice aught not be venerated. If parents decide to send their children, that is there decision. If they decide to keep their children with the main body of believers, so be it, that was how it was from the beginning.
Dressing Up For Church
Dressing up for gatherings has no biblical roots, rather it became popular during the first half of the nineteenth century. Ancient church leaders, to even more modern ones (such as Wesley), spoke against dressing up . Some say it shows respect to God, however, this is just spiritual sounding rhetoric. Actually the Bible seems to teach otherwise . Christians throughout the ages taught we should be clean and neat. However, modern formal dress and post-modern rakish, injudicious fashions, have no biblical grounding. True respect is obedience to Christ’s commands!
What should we do?
Each one of these items are so ingrained in many group cultures, it has become a symbol for Christianity. While most of them aren’t against original Christianity, we need to keep going back to the foundation of Christ. Our defense should not be the traditions and practices. Rather, we aught to preach and defend Christ and his teachings. Our evangelism should not be traditions, but rather Christ!
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(1) Viola, Frank; Barna, George (2008). Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. p. 35. ISBN 9781414341651.
(2) Bercot, David. Myth of Christian America audio set.
(6) Surprisingly the Bible does not speak much on clothing. However, there seems to be some basic guidelines, including the two passages here: 1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Peter 3:3.
Image source: Wikipedia/Kurpfalzbilder.de