“What is happening to the church these days?” a leader asked. He went on to recite a list of concerns: people wearing shorts and sandals to worship…people talking loudly before the service begins and walking out during the postlude…loud, obnoxious music… ”One congregation even has a coffee bar and tables in the balcony of the sanctuary!” For that church leader it seemed nothing but a blatant disrespect for God, bordering on blasphemy.
God’s people in every age have adopted various practices which were designed to protect the laws and commandments of God, and to keep believers walking in an upright manner. In Jesus’s time these practices were called traditions of the elders, and they became a kind of litmus test for faith. If someone were to skip over one of these traditions, as was the case when Jesus’ disciples ate without first washing their hands, it occasioned much criticism, even to the point of being cast out by the religious authorities.
Jesus’ word on the subject is one of liberality. Traditions can be important markers for our faith, so long as they point toward God and a help us grow in God’s grace. The commandments themselves are meant to help us know the heart of God. But when our traditions become ends in and of themselves…they can become barriers to knowing God and keeping His commandments. We are therefore called by Christ to find our unity in the essentials matters of faith, and extend freedom to all in the non-essential matters. The place where the conversation about what is essential and what is not even has a special name. It’s called “church.”
Sam is currently out on medical leave, but the audio file of this sermon should be online around Labor Day. Thank you for your patience!