The Living Faith of the Dead or the Dead Faith of the Living?

Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he 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;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

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 7:1-13

Grasshopper Sparrow # 6 | Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR | November 2020

Are you a traditionalist? Do you relish the old, the tried and true? Or are you an innovator? Do you like new? I love both the old and new. In fact Jesus says that those who have been trained for the kingdom of God are like householders who bring from their treasury things old and new (cf. Matthew 13:52). Maybe you’ve heard the song, “Make new friends, and keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” Old and new. Tradition and innovation. Both have their place in the Kingdom of God.

A former member of a church I served many years ago has joined a Roman Catholic Church that uses (once again) the Latin Mass. That group believes the Latin Mass to be the ultimate expression of the true faith and proper worship. That is not what Jesus calls for. Jesus speaks of worshiping in spirit and truth. The New Testament was written in common (koiné) Greek; the language of the common people of his day. 

There is one occasion when a traditionalistic approach to religion proved to be an opportunity to witness to the Christian faith. Diane and I were in Beijing with another pastor and his wife. We had visited a Roman Catholic church that Sunday morning, together with our guide. They chose that morning to recite the Nicene creed in Latin.

So that the Chinese people in attendance could join in that act, they transposed the sounds of the Latin words into Chinese characters! Our guide turned to me and said, “This makes no sense to me.” Indeed it did not. 

As we headed from the church to the airport my friend and I translated the Latin Creed into English, using normal English words and the English alphabet. He understood English, so we were confident that we would be able to provide a fairly clear expression of the Christian faith for him to ponder. 

And so we did. But how silly! Using the sounds of the Chinese characters to make the sounds of Latin phrases! Gibberish. Jesus is not about gibberish. Jesus is about truth, clarity, life, and grace. Let’s make that perfectly clear and never allow our traditions to get in the way of sharing that grace and truth clearly. 

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