The religious leaders added rules or “fences” to God’s Law. In Mark 7:1-13 they’re called “the traditions of the elders” five times by Jesus. They receive such a scathing critique it’s tempting to think, “Traditions are terrible!” But Paul said, “Brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15) and he told the Corinthians, “I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you” (1 Corinthians 11:2).
That’s a pretty big deal to be praised by Paul, and they were being praised for the traditions they were following! In the sermon I talked more about what made the “traditions of the elders” bad, as well as what makes other traditions bad, but clearly all traditions aren’t bad!
Most of us had traditions in our families growing up. If you’re a parent maybe you still follow some of those traditions having passed them down to your children, and you’ve probably also started some traditions of your own. Cities have traditions: Woodland recently celebrated Planters’ Day. Countries have traditions. Schools have traditions. Businesses have traditions. Organizations have traditions. And of course churches have traditions…
Last week we returned from Family Camp. Before that we had the 4th of July party at the Donalds’. The first Sunday of every month we share a meal together in the fellowship hall. Baby dedications are a tradition (they’re drawn from Samuel and Jesus’ dedications, but they’re not commanded). The only commanded traditions are baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Some traditions aren’t commanded, but they help us obey other commands. For example, fellowship is commanded (Heb 10:25), and home groups will hopefully become a tradition that allows WCC to obey God’s command regarding being in fellowship with each other. We’re commanded to know God’s Word (Matt 4:4; Col 3:16) and Sunday School is a tradition that helps us accomplish that in our lives.
What makes traditions bad? First, and most importantly when they’re given too much weight; when they’re treated like commands instead of traditions. Second, when they’re followed simply for tradition’s sake: it might not be what’s best, but it’s what’s been…a tradition.
Last Sunday I concluded a brief sermon series on being part of a church family and being involved in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This past week I received an e-mail that showed the importance of reaching out to people, and how powerful it is to receive a simple invitation for fellowship. Here’s part of the message, which I received permission to share…
“In the past I have been one of those people hurt by others, and in spite of trying to make friends no one returned the kindness. I tried several people and still no deal. Everyone had their own friends already or were too busy. So I became too busy as well and worked all the time. I became one of those people you described who didn’t put in the time or effort to make friends. Frankly I was tired of trying. I was done. People at work were my only so-called-friends and only one was a believer, and he did not return the kindness either.
Your sermon challenged me though. Lately I had been wanting to try again – largely because of the church family at WCC – making the sermon’s timing very good. Then something happened: a person at church actually invited me out to get together, and he actually followed through and it had nothing to do with me helping him with anything. Whenever people contacted me in the past it was never simply for fellowship: they wanted something. The last time someone called to just do something was about two years ago when my friend who moved away overseas came to visit. I honestly have some hope now that having friends and fellowship will be possible in our family at WCC. Thank you for the challenge. I will work on making that time.”
It’s wonderful how powerfully God works things together. You have an individual who’s already feeling challenged to be more involved in the church. God confirms the conviction through the preaching of His Word. Then God stirs up someone to send an invitation. How unfortunate would it have been if the person didn’t send the invitation? In last week’s sermon, I said personal involvement is more important than corporate involvement in the church, because while there’s a sign up sheet for the nursery, church cleaning, serving in the kitchen, etc. there’s no sign up sheet for making people feel loved; there’s no sign up sheet for making people feel like part of your church family. If you don’t pursue this sort of involvement in people’s lives, they miss out on those blessings.
Sunday’s sermon was about the vision of WCC, but I’d also like to discuss what I (and the rest of the leadership team) don’t mean by “church vision.” I understand for many churches vision is talking about where the church will be in some number of years. Since I’ve been at WCC we’ve never had a leadership meeting discussing where we expect to be in the future, and I think there are three reasons for this…
First, you can make an argument from Scripture that we’re discouraged from saying what we’re going to do, or saying what we believe is going to happen:
Proverbs 27:1 Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.
James 4:13, 14 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow.
In Luke 12:13-21 Jesus told a parable about a man called a fool by God because he made great plans for the future, not knowing what the near future would hold (and for him it was death).
Second, it seems presumptuous to say where we’re going to be or what we’re going to do. Of course I can say five years down the road we’ll still be teaching God’s Word and we’ll still be a family church, but those are more descriptions of our values, who we are, what we want to focus on…as opposed to where we see ourselves.
Third, we don’t know who is going to join the church, what situations we’re going to face, what needs will arise, etc, so how can we say where we’re going to be or what we’re going to do? I understand this brings up the question of how we approach the future, and I’d say we pray for God to direct us, we trust He’s guiding us, and we deal with circumstances as they arrive. This is what we’ve done with the sound system, bylaws, carpet, installation of deacons, associate pastor position, etc. Currently we’re tossing around the idea of home fellowships and accountability groups. As opposed to saying, “By June we’re going to have four home fellowships and men’s accountability groups” we’re waiting to see how these develop while praying, “Lord, if this is Your will, please make it clear, and if it’s not, please make that clear too.”
While this post discussed what we don’t mean by vision, if you would like to understand the vision of WCC please listen to this sermon.
I’m very excited about the seven men being installed as deacons at WCC, but there’s something that makes their installation even more special for me. I would go so far as to say this is the best example in my life of Ephesians 3:20 that God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ever ask or even imagine. It was about seven years ago that I remember being on the phone with my mom, finally learning the terrible news that her and Dad were going to move to Texas to get away from me…something I never thought would happen. Mom said, “All we do anymore is fight about religion.” It was true. I had ruined our relationship trying to play the Holy Spirit in their lives and make them become Christians. I asked them to forgive me and give me one more chance: I begged them to come for just one visit. I could hear the reluctance and concern in Mom’s voice when I asked, but after talking to Dad they said they would come under one condition: “Tell us you won’t talk about religion at all.” Since it seemed to be the only way to maintain a relationship with them, I agreed.
I shut my mouth and started praying. Since becoming a Christian the strongest desire of my life had been seeing my parents become Christians; now that desire had to come to fruition without me doing anything but praying. I prayed for their salvation more than I’ve ever prayed for anything in my life including even finding a wife…and that’s something I prayed for A LOT! Skipping five years of the story, and leaving out lots of details about the progress that at times seemed almost nonexistent, my parents finally became Christians. In one of the happiest moments of my life I was able to listen to them share their testimonies and then I was able to baptize them. The church was full of people who knew our story and had been praying for their salvation (as well as praying for me to keep my mouth shut and not mess things up). I might have been able to imagine my parents becoming Christians. I might have been able to imagine baptizing them someday. I might have even been able to imagine being a pastor and having them visit the church and see me preach. Here’s what was exceedingly abundantly above all that I could ever ask or even imagine: I never would’ve imagined my parents giving up everything to come and be with me, my wife and our children, and that I’d be their pastor and one day lay hands on my dad and pray for him to join me in leadership. But that’s what God did.