Growing up in a Catholic home, I was steeped in religious tradition. Going to mass every week meant you followed many, many traditions. Stand up. Sit down. Make the sign of the cross. Bless yourself with Holy water as you leave, etc. etc. For the longest time, I equated these traditions with God.
But God is SO MUCH MORE than these traditions!
I am not knocking the Catholic church, please don’t think that. However, for me personally these traditions became a stumbling block to me in a way. It was so repetitious. Repeating the same words every week and the same prayers every week made my mind numb. My mouth could speak the words of the prayer, but my mind was a million miles away.
There is nothing wrong with traditions, necessarily, so long as they don’t become a stumbling block. So long as they don’t replace the relationship piece. So long as we don’t hold them over people’s heads and believe that our tradition is the only right tradition.
Moving around a lot over the years has meant that my family has had to change churches several times. It is always a journey to find the right church in a new city. For me, it has really brought to light the immense differences that can be seen throughout churches in our country, despite all believing in the core basics of doctrine. Each church does things a little differently. Each denomination does things a little differently.
It’s funny, we went from attending a denominational church that believed in the gift of tongues to a different denominational church that forbid the use of this gift in its church. HA! I can’t stop thinking about this irony. I honestly have never been given this gift myself, and it was almost a stumbling block for us in that first church that believed in this. However, we did a lot of reading about it in the Bible (it’s certainly there!) and we continued to feel the presence of God moving in a powerful way in this church, and so we made it our church home. Yet, we knew that speaking in tongues, or not speaking in tongues, really was not what the point was. JESUS was the point, and so when we found our new church that forbid this, we laughed a little at the irony and then continued to ask ourselves, “do we feel the presence of God in this church?”
Because in the end, it’s not about traditions. It is not about the man-made rules. It is all about Jesus and what He has done for us. It is all about our personal, growing relationship with the Creator of the world. It is all about LOVE.
Jesus was actually confronted and asked what was the greatest commandment to follow. His answer was not, “say this prayer three times every day and make sure you speak in tongues (or don’t speak in tongues).”
No, his answer was SIMPLE.
It’s as easy and as hard as that.
And when we complicate the message, when we lay down rules for people to follow, when we look down on others for doing things differently then us, then we are doing a huge disservice to the world. I can hear Paul exhorting us, “People – this is NOT how it should be. One says I am a Catholic. One says I am a Lutheran. One says I am a Methodist. NO, NO, NO! We are all ONE in Christ. We are all to follow Jesus. That’s it.”
One of my favorite books, “Accidental Pharisees” by my old Pastor Larry Osborne has some wonderful truths throughout. One particular great passage says:
“Those of us who have a bent toward a rigid and rule-based expression of our faith tend to judge and condemn those who don’t follow our rules or match up to our standards. At times we can wonder if they are genuinely saved. Meanwhile those of us who consider these rules and standards unnecessary tend to look with disgust and contempt upon those who insist on keeping them. We chalk them up as uptight and narrow-minded. According to Paul’s exhortation, both responses are dead wrong.” (Romans 14-15)
I will be the first to admit that I have stood on both sides of that fence, as the accuser on each side, as well as the condemned on each side. And none of it feels good. None of it is what Jesus desired. No, my friends. What Jesus desired is for us NOT to place stumbling blocks in our brother’s way. Jesus desired for us to keep it focused.
Keep it simple.