Wrapped Around the Axle of Tradition!!
The Sin of the Way It’s Always Been!
I never cease to be amazed at the power of tradition. No matter how ineffective a ministry has been it can become a tradition or set of traditions that hold people captive with almost mystical power. When you look at the traditions of of the church you see ministries that have been built around programs which have not born fruit for decades. Is it any wonder that many if not most churches are slowly dying on the vine? Is it any wonder that the church of Jesus Christ is no longer the “salt of the earth”?
Having been involved in many churches over the decades one of the things I can say with confidence is that I have never seen a church split over Biblical doctrine. In every case it is over things that simply do not have Biblical precedence and, even more importantly, are rooted in the personal preference of people who have been in the church for a long time. That’s the way it’s always been and we have to keep it that way! The traditions of man!
Traditions have become the inane, anachronistic center of attention in many, many churches.
Wrapped Around the Axle of Sunday Morning Bible Study!
The Sin of the Worship of Bible Study!
One thing that seems true is in many churches is there seems to be a higher regard for Bible Study itself than there is for the change in the believers hearts that should be wrought studying the Bible. The vast majority of believers, particularly those who have been around a while, leave the study the same way they came into the study. Unchanged! For most believers it is a weekly check-box for their personal feel-good, comfort zone based, conundrum. Believers somehow have equated spiritual growth with attendance of various functions and programs of the church as opposed to becoming more like their Lord and Savior, Jesus!
The Bible clearly measures spiritual growth by the unity and growth of the body of believers as a whole (Ephesians 4:13) but that has somehow gotten lost in the shuffle of axle wrapped believers who simply spin around programs and numbers as things that are highly important though the results are little to nothing!
I am continually flabbergasted at how so many believers can glibly attend a Bible Study where God’s Word is shared clearly and walk away with unchanged hearts. Sunday morning Bible Study. Check! Acts 7:51 “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.” Traditions do not produce results, but becoming accountable for what God’s Word teaches us does produce results. The missing ingredient is accountability which is resisted because it imposes self-sacrifice on one’s personal space. Duh! The apostle Paul said in Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” So in most cases people just listen and maybe take a few notes but their ears are not open to hear God’s Word because the change would inconvenience them and force them out of their traditional comfort zones.
Teaching is hard work, it takes literally man-days of preparation for a single study. A teacher then goes into a Bible study filled with God’s Word but sadly having come to know over time that it will likely fall on ears that are deaf. As a teacher, I conducted an experiment over several weeks and found some interesting results. From week to week the people in the study could not remember the title or the anchor verses from the previous weeks study. If they remembered to bring the cheat-sheet from the previous week they could answer the questions but otherwise: nay, neggets, nyet, nada, zip, zilch, nothing! One of the lessons I taught was; “I Can’t Write God’s Laws On Your Heart”. How could anyone forget a lesson having that title with content from Deuteronomy 11:18-21, James 1:22,25 and Hebrews 5:11-14? The answer is simple but sad; “Those who have been trained by rote to be dull of hearing.”
Recently, after evaluating ministries for effectiveness, the leadership of a church decided that Bible study was not producing results. Surprise! Surprise! Check! Leadership then decided that if other ministries or additional services were needed that Bible study, in the context of Sunday morning, may need to change. One of the teachers, knowing this, taught a Bible study and at the end study told the class; “If you want this Bible study to continue, you have to fight for it because it is not part of the vision of leadership!”
What a testimony! Fight for something that is merely a Sunday morning “check-box”? Spreading strife among the brethren over something that has not produced results in decades? Causing discontent over something that will not even be remembered next week? Whoof!
Wrapped Around the Axle of Sunday Morning Services!
If the folks can’t hear in Bible Study before the main service then how can they be expected to hear during the main service. Sunday morning worship! Check!
The Sin of Message Worship!
Recently, a someone told me that they had confronted their pastor because they had found on the internet where the pastor had used sermons, word for word, from another pastor. This eventually turned into a big deal and rumors began to spread, eventually leading a group of men to charge that the pastor was plagiarizing his messages. It seems that these men failed to read Philippians 1:18 “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.” While the pastor may have been using sermons from another pastor, he was not preaching the gospel in pretense. Who cares as long as God’s Word is being preached? Really? The originality of a pastor’s message is really quite impossible because God’s Word doesn’t change and the nature of sin doesn’t change. How many different ways can the same thing be preached? I would rather have a message quoted from a Godly pastors repertoire than to here a mist from the pulpit which becomes a fog in the pew. I have one thing to say; Matthew 7:3 “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”
When God speaks to me about something I believe that He is speaking the same thing to others. That being the case, if I am hearing from the Lord by the power of His Spirit, when I write an article I would not be surprised to find that there are others who are hearing and writing about the same things. Even more importantly, the very things I’m writing about today were opined by D. L. Moody in the 19th century. So, are the messages preached by others viable and valid today?
Absolutely, neither God nor His Word changes and neither does sin. Let me cite an example from Jesus Himself. In Mark 7:1-23 Jesus rebuked to the Pharisees regarding their exaltation of tradition over God’s Word. To do this, Jesus used a scripture from Isaiah 29:13 which was written some 700 years earlier (v6 And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:”). The problems in Isaiah’s time were the same as the problems of Jesus time. The problems of our times are the same as in the times of D. L. Moody, the times of Jesus and the times of Isaiah as well. The heart of man can only change when he completely transfers his trust to God through Jesus Christ alone. Then he must work at hearing God by reading and meditating on His Word, in the power of the Holy Spirit, embracing the things that God shows him.
That being the case, the elephant in the room is pretty a pretty big one, African as opposed to Indian. How can someone’s heart be centered on the things of God and His Word, though the power of the Holy Spirit, when their focus is on whether or not a pastor’s sermon is original? Time spent searching the internet in critiquing someone else is time wasted in the flesh! Sin and it’s causes have never changed from the original sin until today and the only hope is forgiveness through trusting in Jesus Christ alone!
Remember what the apostle Paul said in Philippians 1:18. If we are focused on God’s Word we will be looking for God to speak to us every time we hear God’s Word preached, whether a duplicate sermon or an original one! If we are trained by God’s Word to recognize good and evil that will be true in our own lives as well. The choice is ours. We can seek God in everything, which will please Him and mature us. Or we can decide that we want to find something wrong with someone else and I assure you that it will not take us long to find it! The question is which one pleases God?
Wrapped Around the Axle of Church Organization!
The Sin of Book Worship!
There are some good books written by men who love the Lord and try their best to do His will. However, books and chapters a ministry doesn’t make. Sometimes pastors try to figure out how to model their ministry according to a book written about another pastors ministry. This may prompt them to begin to change things without a clear vision which becomes a point of contention in the church. The changes create contention and the contention obfuscates vision and lack of vision causes the people to cast off restraint thus descending into the deeds of the flesh. Their only reference being the way things have been done in the past, their tradition! What else could be expected? Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law.” Paraphrased, when one follows God’s Word they will be happy! Otherwise, not so much! So, when pastors begin to follow the wrong book the results are absolutely predictable!
What about believers? Well, the same applies to them as well. When a believer reads a book, even one written by well-known, highly respected, successful pastors, and decides that is how the church should work, the results will be similar. Not taking into account that the model in the book may not produce fruit and churches following that model could be dying on the vine, the believer can simply take the position that this should be the model. Results predictable! Again, when a believer begins to focus on what others are doing wrong, it won’t take long to find something or some things, but the results will not be pleasing to God. The true model for both pastors and believers is God’s Word, not a book written by a man!
The measurable results of a ministry can be judged by the number of people who are leading others in coming to trust Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Not the number of people in Sunday School, not the number of people in Sunday Service, not even the number Sunday Baptisms, but the number of people leading others to Christ!
Wrapped Around the Axle of Education!
This is a very sensitive subject for many believers. Nothing in this country is worshiped more than education. Education has become the God of pretty much every aspect of life in this country from religion, to vocation, to politics. But what does God’s Word says. God’s Word tells us that those who graduate from a seminary with an MDiv or MTh are qualified to preach, teach and lead a church. Right? – – – Wrong! In Ephesians 4:11 “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers”. What! You mean the Holy Spirit gifts preachers and and pastors and teachers? Again, enter the traditions of man. If someone can graduate from a seminary they must be gifted by God! Right? Not according to God’s Word. They may well be gifted but by the Holy Spirit not their education.
The Sin of the Guy with the Big Degree!
So think about this logically. An 18 year old young man graduates high school and attends a Bible College then goes to seminary and graduates with a master degree at the ripe old age of 25. If this person is really good they’ll spend the next couple of years and get their doctorate. Think about this carefully. Someone who left the care of their parents and spent the next ten years in the bubble of academia where life is a set of theories and now they have big credentials. But do they have any gifting? Maybe? Do they have real life experience? Probably not much!
How many churches would make this young man an offer to come and be their pastor or associate pastor and immediately make him a deacon or elder? There are a large number of churches who would be happy to have this young man as their pastor. But, is this highly educated young fella ready to pastor a church or even function as a deacon or elder? Probably not for a long time! Even in the context of associate pastor this young man does not have life experience walking with believers over which he will be given authority. There are some key things to consider:
First, according to Ephesians 4:11 it is God’s Holy Spirit that gifts someone to be a pastor or teacher. The level of education does not have any bearing on that gift but the gift has a huge bearing on the person. While education is a good thing, it is certainly not a gift of the Holy Spirit nor does it imply gifting by the Holy Spirit.
Second, according to 1 Timothy 3:4-7, there are some qualifications for elder that simply cannot come from education alone but from experience walking according to God’s Word. So the notion of taking someone fresh out of seminary and dropping them in the role of senior pastor or even associate pastor is a recipe for disaster and disappointment. This is true for both the person and the body of believers. 1 Timothy 5:22 “Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.” Most churches. out of tradition, assume that graduates make one elder or deacon material. Not according to scripture!
The bottom line here is that experience is necessary to be able to lead in God’s church. Education is important 2 Tim 2:15 “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” The KJV says “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” However, education is not, nor does it imply, a gift form the Holy Spirit to preach, pastor or teach.
Un-Wrapped in God’s Word!
The Pattern that Works!
There is a clear pattern in God’s Word for bringing a body of believers to maturity in Christ Jesus. There are many instances in God’s Word as to how leaders must mature believers in Christ, but I believe the best, most complete and most succinct is Ephesians 4:11-16. The Bible tells us here that God, by the power of His Spirit, provided gifted people to the church specifically for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry in order to build up the body of Christ in love. There are clear goals, warnings and measurements that these Holy Spirit gifted people can follow to insure that the body of believers has not become a shriveling branch on the vine but a vibrant, active, life changing body of believers that grows because it can’t help doing so because of what God has done for them. These believers have become adults in Christ Jesus because they have matured in God’s Word and easily recognize good and evil. It says in Hebrews 5:14 “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” In James 1:25 it says “But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” The result will be people who cannot contain themselves and must share with others what God has done for them causing the spread of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
No one can produce God-pleasing fruit as long as they are ”wrapped around the axle of tradition”. So; What’s it gonna be? Do we want to be caught up in the traditions of man, spinning around the axle of aridity or do we want to be in the God-pleasing position of spreading the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
It is our choice!
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