by Samuel Brooks
As Christians, have we fallen into the trap and habit of following tradition and legalism? Short answer…Yes! But how?I was sitting in church a couple weeks ago and the minister that was presenting the sermon made a comment about how there would be times where he’d be meeting with individuals visiting the church and, after a short period of time, they’d stop coming to the church; leaving him asking the question: What happened? One of the many reasons why people stop attending a church (or church altogether) is because some of the members will push all of the traditions and legalism of their church – regardless of the denomination – onto those visiting (e.g. you need to do this, you need to dress this way, doctrine, etc) as well as onto existing members that they try to outcast for committing a sin. Doesn’t Scripture say that if you judge then you’ll be judged by God (Matthew 7:1-6)? The same topic came up a couple days later during a small Bible study and fellowship group that my family has every Tuesday evening. I’ve seen this issue in not just churches but in Christian schools too! Now, I’m all for wearing modest clothing, needing to repent, being baptized in Jesus’ Name and being filled with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues…along with other things that I could list. The issue that I’m starting to have – and I’m thankful that it was brought up in the service – is that we’ve allowed tradition and legalism to dictate our faith since it’s an area that Christians can, and do, get caught up in; including myself.
When you focus too much on tradition and legalism, you become less Christ-like and more Pharisee-like (Matthew 23:1-36). When you focus too much on tradition and legalism, you care more about the tally marks on your attendance sheet instead of making disciples of Christ. I’m not saying that we should abandon or alter Scripture, not at all! When you read Scripture, did Jesus – who’s God manifested in the flesh – spend majority of His time in the Temple with the Pharisees OR was He out in the world ministering and making disciples? The Bible commands us to “Love God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind; and love our neighbor as ourselves” (Luke 10:27), “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12), forgive (ask and give freely), pray, and witness to others just to name a few. If we do these things, God will handle the rest. You can’t change people, Christ is the only one that can do that! My step-father made the comment during the fellowship group meeting that, as Christians, “We need to be comfortable spiritually but restless physically in this world.” One of the best examples that I have is Sam “Machine Gun Preacher” Childers, who was a former member of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club before becoming a born-again Christian at an Assembly of God church. Childers is also known for building an orphanage in Southern Sudan where he’d lead armed rescue missions for children kidnapped by the LRA (“Lord’s Resistance Army”) and earned the nickname “Machine Gun Preacher” because he’d “hold onto a Bible in one hand and an AK-47 in the other while he slept in the Sudan.” He also preaches at The Shekinah Fellowship Church in Central City, PA. Another example is Michael Franzese, who’s a former member of New York’s Colombo Crime Family from 1975-1995 where he reached the rank of caporegime (or ‘captain’) in 1980 before he became a born-again Christian and left the “life”; his father, John “Sonny” Franzese was also the underboss within the same criminal organization. Today, Michael tours around the world as a motivational speaker and best-selling author to spread his testimony on redemption and forgiveness to youth, prisoners and economically disadvantaged families just to name a few.
I’m going to end with a few questions: 1) How can you truly be the salt and light in the world when you’re so focused on legalism and tradition? 2) What does Scripture say about following the traditions of men? 3) What do you need to change so that you’re more Christ-like and less Pharisee-like?