“The Pharisees saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.” Mark 7:2
In itself, tradition is a good thing. It connects us with our roots. It hands down to us understandings and patterns that have helped people in the past.
But the gospel is not primarily about our historic rootedness. It is about our union with Christ. And he has new blessing for us today. But our hearts complicate the immediacy and freshness of our union with Christ. Tradition enters in. How?
It starts imperceptibly. A small thing, even a good thing, like washing hands — how can a decent person disagree with that? — our emotions confer on it a sanctity it doesn’t deserve. It takes on a holy glow in our religious psychology. But really, we are projecting something of Self to absolute status, where Christ alone belongs. And that is not reverence.
He alone is the one to tell us how he wants to be honored, according to Scripture. And our self-chosen reverences always end up diminishing the obedience he does require.
Jesus said, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition” (Mark 7:9). We’re good at this sleight of hand, evading the plain demands of God in the Bible for the sake of our own more comfortable observances. We don’t even notice ourselves doing this, because our traditions claim to honor Christ.
The problem is not too little reverence. The problem is too many reverences. We look at a pagan household in a culture far away, its mantle crowded with little gods, but we don’t see ourselves there. We too need to desecrate our fraudulent consecrations and re-revere Christ alone. It is so freeing.
How can we do that? By keeping the radar sweeping back and forth across the landscape of our churches, constantly asking ourselves questions like, “Are we breaking through to newness of life? Are our minds being renewed so that Jesus is surprising us? Are we laying aside everything that doesn’t help us run the race? Are we letting go of everything that has served its purpose but is no longer challenging us? Are we following Christ into new places we’ve never gone before? When was the last time something happened in our church that can only be explained as new blessing from the Lord?”
Let’s stay completely open to the new work the Lord wants to do, according to Scripture alone. That is the place of blessing, even revival.