Thursday, August 28, 2014

Freedom From The Trap of Tradition

      What do you think of when you think of tradition?  Do you think of a warm apple pie at Thanksgiving or do you think of the Pharisees tradition of washing hands?  Perhaps many would think of the song "Tradition" from the musical Fiddler on the Roof which gave some insight into how Jewish tradition is valued. I think of the church buildings and the hierarchical structure of church leadership.  Amish people are a group that are a prime example of the powerful influence of tradition.  Though it is easy to see how the Amish are seeped in tradition, they are not alone, but our whole culture has traditions that  powerfully influence us.

      Before looking at some traditions that influence people, let’s consider the moral ramifications of tradition.  Is tradition good or evil?  I studied the Bible for information about tradition and  found that most of the time it was spoken in a negative light.  Christ put a light on traditions that were blinding people to more important issues. Tradition was also used to circumvent God’s word.  There is a verse that tells us to hold onto good tradition.   So there are good and bad traditions, but God’s word must take precedence over any tradition.

     America has a lot of tradition.  My family was shopping in a store where there was another Christian family.  The mother had a headship veiling on and had a number of children.   Another  woman who was a shopper spoke to one of the little boys.  The woman said,  “Is Santa coming to your house?”  The boy looked confused.  The woman said, “You know who Santa is, don’t you?”  The boy quietly told her “no.” The woman’s demeanor changed and she angrily told the boy, “You’re lying!” She then walked away.  We can look back at ancient cultures and see the faults in people that had idols, but we have some very real idols in our American culture.   I know there are Christians that hold Santa dear, but he is an idol that competes with the affections that children need to apply to Christ.  The Scripture clearly tells of the need to cast “down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God."  It would be hard for us to hear Christ say, "Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition."

     The Amish have tradition that both knits families together and tears families apart.  Most heart rending are the stories where people have sought to please God in their lives, but tradition conflicted with obedience to God, and families have been divided.   Christ warning to the Pharisees about making the Word of God void through their tradition is lived out in many Amish communities.  There is the testimony of Ephraim Stoltzfus, who wanted to have a Bible study with friends and share the gospel with the community.  These things were not allowed in the Amish group he was a part of.  He had a choice to make.  Obey God or man’s tradition.  The choice became clear, and he faced the consequence from man.  He was excommunicated from his Amish community.  Most Americans would have no idea what this would be like because most people are more independent from the lives of others compared to the Amish.  After being excommunicated he felt the wrath of man, but came to know in a greater way the smile of God.

     When reading the definition for “tradition" in Webster’s 1828 dictionary I found it interesting that it gives an example of a difference in the Roman Catholic church, Jews, and the Protestant church in relation to the authority of tradition.  It states: “The Jews pay great regard to tradition in matters of religion, as do Romanists.  Protestants reject the authority of tradition in sacred things, and rely only on the written word.”
This is the issue Jesus spoke of when he gave warnings against making God’s Word void through tradition.  Tradition must never be given the authority of Scripture unless  the tradition comes from Scripture.  The Protestant Reformation helped bring to light the trap of human tradition.

The Jews believed that washing hands before eating was a large crime because of tradition.  They made up a story of a demon, called Shibta, that dwelt on men’s hands by night would be authorized to be on the food of those that would eat without washing their hands.  This evil spirit was believed to be harmful to those that didn’t wash their hands.  Those that didn’t wash their hands before eating would be excommunicated.  Jesus was found to be perfect concerning the law of God. It seems the best accusation that could be found against his disciples was this human tradition of washing hands.  When the scribes and Pharisees brought this to Jesus’ attention, he brought to their attention how they had transgressed God’s command by their tradition.   He told how they obeyed a man made tradition that allowed them to violate the command to honor their parents.  He charged them with hypocrisy saying, “Ye hypocrites...”  He clarified the situation by telling the multitude around him that it is not that which goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him, but that which comes out.   Jesus had a way of clarifying issues.

     Sometimes traditions are carried on, but people don't know why they do them.  The story is told of a woman who was preparing a holiday meal.  She cut a piece off the bottom of a ham before putting it in the pan to bake.  When asked why she cut it that way, she replied, "My mother always cut the bottom of the ham before putting it in the pan."  The question was asked to the mother who replied that her mother had always done it that way.  They were able to ask the matriarch of the family why she cut the bottom off the ham before putting it in the pan.  She replied that she cut the ham before putting it in the pan because the pan she used was too short for the ham to fit into.
  Some traditions can be an unneeded burden, but others can be a great way for families and friends to make some good memories.  May God grant us wisdom to discern which ones to hold on to and which ones to let go.

This video is a BBC documentary about Amish tradition, and gives the testimony of Ephraim Stoltzfus.  I think it will be a blessing to watch.  I believe his testimony will merit a post by itself, but please watch this to see how tradition can hinder God's Word.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Bumper Stickers & Slogans

     I live near to a small city called Ithaca.  Bumper stickers and slogans seem to be very popular in Ithaca.  A lot of the population has connections to two  local colleges (Ithaca College and Cornell University). Perhaps it is because it is a college town that prompts people to be expressive with their views.  The bumper stickers are not the type that seem typical in other areas. The slogans are often political.  In other areas you often see bumper stickers that are for a school a child attends or a favorite ball team.  The slogans you find in Ithaca are different in that they often clearly express ideas of a worldview.    A popular sticker that is an exception to the political expression is "Ithaca is Gorges."  This one is a creative play on words as Ithaca is gorgeous, and it has some beautiful gorges.

     There are often beggars in Ithaca.  It seems that some people know that begging can be a lucrative endeavor.  One sign I saw as I was leaving a parking lot was held by a young man .  The sign stated:  "Too Dumb to Steal, Too Ugly to Prostitute.  Anything you can give will help.  God Bless!"  Yuck!  It baffled me that someone would have that kind of a mindset.  It was as if he couldn't even think of a good way of making money.  Honest work was not even an option.

     A more subtle message I saw on a bumper sticker was "Hate is not a Family Value."  On the surface this looks convincing.  As an independent thinker, I ask myself, "According to what standard?"  As a  believer in Christ, I find parts of the Bible that say that I should hate evil.  If the person that carried the "no hate" message was honest, he would admit that he hates certain things himself.  The issue isn't so much whether we hate certain things, but rather if we hate the right things.  We live in a time when people do what the prophet Isaiah lamented of in his day.  They say evil is good and good is evil. (Isaiah 5:20)

     Another message that has been expressed in a number of ways, including a stop sign that had the word "WAR" spray painted on it, is the "End War" message.  Bumper stickers that say "War is not the Answer" and "Stop the Endless War" are rather prevalent.  This I can agree with.  Another bumper sticker gives the other side of the coin and also makes sense: "Defend or Die."  The real solution for war to end is the gospel of Jesus Christ to change hearts.  Christ is the Prince of Peace. Those that follow him will heed his command to be peacemakers.  The old slogan: "Jesus is the Answer" is spot on.

      I saw a bumper sticker in Ithaca that mentioned Jesus.  It said, "Jesus Didn't Heal For Profit."   On the surface this looks good.  The problem is that it is implying something that is not good.  It is the mindset that the world owes me something.  It is the same message as the "I Love Obamacare" bumper sticker.  It is the same mindset as the young beggar that couldn't think of an honest way to get money.  One of the things that Jesus reproved people for was that after he had given them food they came for that purpose and not for the truth that would benefit them for eternity.

     Here's a potshot: "Church + State= Taliban.  This one is false in not just what it implies, but also in fact.  The problem is the ideas that those in the Taliban carry.  "Ideas have Consequences."  As for religion and government, it is impossible to separate the two.  The choice we make is whether we acknowledge God who is unchanging and the ultimate Lawgiver, or trust in man who changes, and whose rules pass away like he does.

     Another bumper sticker showed a picture of a dog behind bars.  It said, "Liberate Laboratory Animals."  There are many experiments that probably shouldn't take place and it is a shame that animals are being used in unprofitable ventures.  I’m glad though when it is the guinea pig that is being experimented on and not me.  You and I are the “guinea pigs” that will be experimented on if animals are not.  It has been reported that in China experiments are preformed on prisoners.  It has also been claimed that the government of the United States has done this to soldiers in the military.  Human experimentation has taken place with embryonic stem cells which involves taking the life of embryos.  Human life has been devalued.  Human life needs to be of much greater concern than experiments on animals.  I have a bumper sticker that expresses this with a picture of a large hand tenderly holding the hand of a baby.  The message reads, “Life is Precious.”

     The following was on a teenager’s tee shirt:  “I can only please one person per day.  Today is not your day.”  Ouch!    What a way to greet everyone!  Another shirt worn by another man said, “My dreams are going to shatter yours.”  I don’t know the man, and maybe that’s best!  Christ gave a command that beats every slogan here when he said,  “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

     Sound bites and slogans can’t express things to the degree that is required for many subjects.  Witty and succinct sayings sound good, but truth isn't always flashy.  Though it is not always popular, truth must win in the end.

Thoughts on more bumper stickers can be found at this link: