And Jesus said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God) — 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” – Mark 7:6-13
There is an Old Testament example of a tragic failure to keep faith in favor of outward actions. The people of Israel had been delivered from the bites of “fiery serpents” by means of a serpent on a pole that Moses fashioned (cf. Numbers 21:4-9), to which the people would look and be saved. It was a wonderful example of God’s grace and deliverance. Later, however, the people took the bronze serpent that Moses had fashioned and made it into an idol. They called it Nehushtan, and made offerings to it (2 Kings 18:1-4).
I heard a syllogism which got a lot of traction in my mind. It goes like this: Traditions are the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism, however, is the dead faith of the living. I like that. It seems to honor the fact and benefit of tradition. It also recognizes that for some the traditions of their faith become more important than the faith itself.
I’m not certain how to speak of the possibility of present-day Nehushtans, or the possible existence of the dead faith of the living. It might be valuing a certain form of prayer over another. It might even be the refusal to recognize a certain form of prayer as legitimate. Requiring or dismissing any form of prayer or religious expression misses the whole point of any form of prayer or religious expression. True religion flows from a believing heart. It can very well express glory and praise to God, but never ends there. It will always also express itself in acts of kindness, love, mercy, and goodness.
Faith without form is of little value. Form without faith is without value altogether before God. God’s delight is in people who believe deeply, worship fully (in Spirit and truth), and let their faith show in lives of love for others.