My wife and I love to watch musicals! Whether it’s an old, black & white Judy Garland flick or a newer movie with great music like Disney’s “Enchanted,” we really enjoy a good musical.
In the musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” the main character Tevye, the father of five daughters, attempts to maintain his family and Jewish religious traditions while outside influences encroach upon their lives. At the beginning of the movie even before the opening credits, he introduces a song aptly called “Tradition” (watch the song from the movie on YouTube here). The song recounts some of the things that define their roles within the family and society. Tevye humorously admits that he doesn’t have a clue how some of these traditions got started, but they are so important to their way of life!
This morning, I was reading Matthew 15, and this song came to mind. The Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus and asked him, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?” His disciples were not performing a special ceremonial washing of their hands before they ate. In their culture, it was believed that if you didn’t perform this ceremonial washing, you would defile yourself. Jesus turned the question back to the Pharisees, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” The Pharisees were advocating a practice that what might have been used to help their father or mother is “devoted to God” and that they were not to “honor their father or mother” with it.
We do the same thing in the church today. Instead of following Jesus’ command to go into the world and make disciples, instead, we live a safe, middle-class life and attend church every time the doors are open–and they are open a lot especially where I live! And the church has essentially communicated that faithfulness to God equals church attendance. I really don’t know who started Sunday School, Sunday evening worship services or midweek prayer meetings. But I do know that for way too many Christians, it is TRADITION. And you don’t mess with tradition!
People here in southeast Kentucky are shocked when I tell that this is the first church I’ve served in over 12 years that still has Sunday night and Wednesday night programming. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that having Sunday night and Wednesday night programming is unspiritual or that those churches without Sunday night and Wednesday night programming are more spiritual. What I am saying is that gauging our spirituality by church attendance is WRONG!
My personal bias is that every Christian should have 1 corporate worship experience and 1 small group experience each week. This is not in any way to lower our commitment to God. Instead, it is to raise it! When we’re not in a corporate worship experience or in a small group Bible study, we are missionaries seeking to carry the Gospel with us into every nook and cranny of the surrounding culture.
But that is not what we have in the church today. We have people who consume religious goods and services like Doritos at a Superbowl party and then live like God doesn’t exist the rest of the time. It’s not necessarily that Christians live like the devil the rest of the time (although there are some who do). They simply don’t give God or His mission a thought throughout the week. Consequently, our churches are full of people who are having no greater impact for the Kingdom of God than before their “conversion.”
When this type of consumerism is allowed to continue unconfronted in the church, you get disunity because people are coming for what they can get from the church. This seems to work great as long as you are providing a “product or service” that people want or enjoy, but if you make a consumer mad–watch out! Paul warns Timothy that this would happen in 2 Timothy 4:3 “…the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions…”
I have a few questions for the church (my church) : “Why do we break the command of God–the Great Commission–for the sake of our tradition (programming)? Why must we run ourselves ragged filling all these man-made, traditional time slots with programs for every age group while we fail to live our lives as missionaries where God has planted us? Why do we continue to lift up as “faithful” those who attend church every time the doors are open but have little to no impact for the Kingdom of God? When will we understand that there is no such thing as a missional church and that only people can be missional? When will we spend more of our time, energy and resources equipping our people to live as missionaries and less trying to attract people to our building for programs, events or services?