“Love the icing”, boldly plasters the front of one Toaster Strudel box. Is that why you buy Toaster Strudels, for the icing? I don’t think so, you buy it for the strudel, right? The icing may help with taste, but it is not the essence of the product.
In a series that will climax on Jesus’ much forgotten apologetic, we have already laid a foundation for truth and addressed our first nemesis that causes division and disunity in Christianity: majoring on the minors and and minoring on the majors, those dividing over unclear and equivocal biblical passages and non-essential positions. That post that tackled one of the more intellectual aspects that divide Christianity.
This post will tackle a second often overlooked nemesis: culture divisions. I’m not talking about issues in the secular culture dealing with morality, such as the same-sex marriage or transgenderism debates. I’m talking about a massive focus on one’s culture such as in traditions, practices, customs, ethnic backgrounds and even personal preferences. If the previous post in this series discussed the intellectual aspects that divide, this one focuses on the one of the emotional aspects that divide.
Traditions Are Beautiful, In Their Proper Place
Traditions are much like the icing on the strudel, a “cherry on top”, not the focus but a finishing touch. Culture is not necessarily right or wrong, I’m not really pro or con necessarily, they are just there (unless they have some immoral component to them). I remember two ex-Catholics agreeing that the traditional Catholic mass was a very aesthetically pleasing and beautiful event.
But lots of things are beautiful, like nature, reason, science and humans. But when we engage in the worship and or focus on any of these — naturalism, rationalism, scientism, and humanism — we have just substituted these for God and they become ugly. Same with tradition, it is beautifully till it is worshiped, then it morphs into an ugly beast. Worshiping entails putting the tradition above God and his commands, ignoring God’s Word or adding to or subtracting from the Gospel for the sake of man’s tradition.
On the other hand, we also must not forget every gathering has some level of tradition or protocol. People desire predictability and protocol which can help build order and familiarity. Missionaries try to understand the local culture and traditions before preaching the Gospel and the best ones conform so long as they don’t transgress the laws of God or Christ.
However, as Christians we need balance, but while the balance is hard achieve, it is essential each generation is continually reassessing the issue because each generation there are new challenges.
Tradition Focus Causes Four Concerns
Dogmatism of and focus on cultural uniformity causes four harms. First, many times it divides the body of Christ. For example, other true followers of Christ may not be received as a brother or sister as the Bible commands. One may be looked down on because the person does not follow specific criteria which the Bible never demands (because no one else can keep up a group’s “perfection”). A wedge in Christian unity is made by promoting one’s group’s uniformity over Christian unity, thus the transgression of Christ’s and Apostle’s teachings.
Second, it encourages an external rather than an internal focused life. People are “perfect” on the outside, following every specific rule and protocol. However, inside they may be stiff necked, hypocritical, prideful, gossipers and busybodies.
Third, it promotes apathy via comfort and regularity. While it may be nice knowing highly specified protocol for one group, it prevents flexibility in unexpected situations and irregularities. Dogmatic customs can trump wisdom. Thus our own personal comfort and familiarity may tempt us to ignore others, especially a seeker who does not understand the full protocol. This leaves the seeker confused and embarrassed when he and she does not comprehend the highly specified culture demands.
Fourth, along with the third point, it can add unnecessary and extra-biblical cultural demands, many times this translates into less lost lives saved. Greater stumbling stones then the Gospel are set up for the seeker. It also can be illicitly the focus of evangelism, rather the Gospel of Christ.
Paul’s Public Criticism of Peter
I think there is a conversation that Paul had with Peter that actually addresses some of these concerns fairly well.
We read this in Galatians 2:11-14:
“But when Peter was come to Antioch, I [Paul] withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?”
You see, Peter and some of the others who knew better, even though they were Jews, did not live like Jews nor think it was necessary. However, they “compelled” the Gentile Christians to live like the Jews. Hypocrisy. Jewish law, which had been done away with at the Cross, and Jewish tradition, which Christ lambasted, was the issue. This led to division in the group because the Jews were too “clean” for for the Gentiles, so they dissembled. The Gentile Christians could not keep the minutiae of protocol.
Actually, this was the focus of the Acts 15 debate too. The passages address similar concerns, what I call the Acts 15 Principle. In this case, Peter was the one who said the following in Acts 15:10
“Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?”
True Christians Are Defined By Christ’s Law, Nothing More and Nothing Less
Loving the icing does not define strudels. What makes a strudel a strudel is a whole different set of criteria. Neither should tradition cause disunity with true followers of Christ. Nor should should tradition trump truth nor diminish the truth. Our goal is not uniformity in belief and practice among believers, but conformity to the teachings of God’s revealed Word, thus creating true Christian unity. Tradition should not become a criterion for salvation and fellowship. Many traditions are transient and have come and gone over the years. Let me put it this way, cultural uniformity does not constitute biblical unity. We have to be able to control tradition and not let tradition control us. God is the standard, not our standard god! God is our protocol, not our protocol god.
In this post series, I am building up to a command Jesus and the apostles gave, an oft forgotten apologetic by Jesus. You will not want to miss that post, so feel free to sign up for the latest posts! Plus, when you do, you will also receive my Free Quick Guide, why I think Science points to God!
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