In Acts 6, Stephen (the first martyr) was on trial for challenging the religious traditions and customs of the day:
They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” Acts 6:12-14
History has a funny way of repeating itself as the church today still struggles with traditions and customs that drag us away from our mission of making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). So, in honor of Stephen, here are six traditions handed down to us that need to be changed:
1. Agreeing with the Word of God rather than obeying it. Somewhere along the way we began to assume that mental assent was enough. We’re great about agreeing with the Word of God. Americans believe in the Bible! Obedience, however, is a different matter. What’s the problem? Jesus said that it’s the application, not the intention, that matters (Matthew 7:24-27). Even demons believe in God (James 2:19). Agreeing with the Word of God is not enough; we need to start obeying it.
2. Getting discipled rather than making disciples. In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), Jesus is explicit in his instructions to his followers: make disciples of all nations. And for centuries that’s exactly what they’ve done. But today American Christians seem like they’d rather get discipled than make disciples. This inward-focused, head-knowledge, navel-gazing brand of religion has the church in a spot where we know more than ever before, yet our churches are dying, not growing. That tradition needs to change!
3. Withdrawing from the messes rather than running toward them. We’re on the wrong side of Luke 15. In the famous parable of the prodigal son, Jesus tells the story of a son who simply makes a mess of his life and then decides to come home. How he’s received is contrasted by the father and the older brother. The father saw the son from a distance and ran towards him (Luke 15:20), indicating our Heavenly Father’s heart towards the world. But how often do we truly (as a church) run toward the messes around us? How active are churches today in our communities? More often we withdraw from the mess, choosing to stay safe inside our sanitary church buildings.
4. Judging the world rather than loving it. The older brother in Luke 15 chose not to embrace his brother but judge him. Are Christians today known for their judgmental attitudes towards those around them? Far too often! Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:12 “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” This was a practical application of Jesus’ overarching command to “love one another” in John 13:34-35. Honestly, for many of us in the church toay we have these commands bass ackwards.
5. Maintaining uncompromising dogma rather than celebrating uncommon fellowship. Not only do we judge the world, we judge other Christians who don’t maintain our narrow stripe of Christian beliefs. Denominations draw boundaries beyond which we dare not venture. This was the point Andy Stanley was recently trying to make when he said that church unity (John 17:23) trumps theological correctness. The overwhelming response? Judge Andy Stanley and double down on the need for uncompromising dogma. Is it any surprise that Christians aren’t united today? A house divided against itself cannot stand.
6. Living in spite of eternity rather than in light of eternity. Let’s be honest: most of us (myself included) live like heaven isn’t really going to happen. How can I say that? Just look at how we spend our time, our energy, our resources. We spend the overwhelming majority of our incomes on ourselves, our pleasures, making ourselves comfortable in this world, as if this world is all that there is. We’ve completely forgotten the command by Jesus to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, not treasures on earth (Matthew 6:19-20).
QUESTION: What other traditions would you add to this list?