The Protestant Reformation addressed some very important problems in the church. Some say that it did not go far enough and others say that it threw the baby out with the bath water. Jesus’ reformation, on the other hand, was perfect. What can we learn from it?
I want us to understand that the church is always in need of reformation, but that first we must each reform ourselves.
We will discuss good, neutral and bad traditions. We will discuss Jesus’ basics for reformation in the church, human politics, the real problem with church and the real solution.
Tradition without heart
Many churches have very fine traditions that are meant to encourage a deeper understanding of the Christian walk. Ceremonies and pictures can all help remind us of the important lessons of salvation. But didn’t Jesus condemn traditions as really burdensome legalism? Not all traditions. In fact the traditions of baptism, taking bread and wine were established by Jesus. How can we tell good traditions from bad? In Mark 7:1-23Jesus gave some guidelines. Human traditions are not necessary for salvation and there is no reason to criticize those who do not follow them. Many traditions are in the unimportant category of mere human rules. Matters of the heart are what’s important. When traditions reject God’s commands or nullifies his word they are wrong. Rituals cannot cleanse what really defiles us. That is the wrong thoughts from inside our hearts.
Baptism of hands
A Baptist understanding of the Greek word baptize is incorrect as many passages of Scripture show, most clearly in the baptism of Israel to Moses when they didn’t even get wet (1 Corinthians 10:2). Although washings and cleansings were religious ceremonies, the word baptize was not originally a religious word. Mark 7:1-23 also shows another use of the word baptize, to wash or cleanse. The disciples had failed to ceremonially wash their hands according to tradition, before they ate. The tradition developed from the Pharisees’ application of commands such as that in Exodus 30:17-21. They had biblical basis for their cleansing traditions. Jesus’ criticism was not that they used the Bible, but that their interpretation had made such a big deal out of the physical that they neglected the more important cause of uncleanliness, the human heart.
There is no doubt that every denomination needs some kind of ongoing reformation effort. How do we go about this without creating division? Jesus challenged not only religious traditions but the interpretation of the Bible behind them (Mark 7:1-23). Similar to but more perfect than the Protestant Reformation, Jesus’ reformation was not based in the highest offices of his day, but in the grass roots. Although the outward form of religion may need some changes, Jesus' priority in reformation was the inner person. This is the reformation that is often missed. We seek to change outward forms of worship but in so doing become just like the Pharisees. Jesus’ reformation basics saw the important battles not in outward things but in the heart. Allow the Holy Spirit to fix the inside and the outside will take care of itself.
This current campaign has proven one thing: neither party is qualified to hold the highest offices in the country. Republicans lied that Obama raised taxes on middle income families, when in fact he had signed several reductions. Democrats lied when they blamed Romney for decisions made at his former business when he was no longer making such decisions. Republicans lied about Obama causing America’s loss of AAA credit rating, when in fact Standard and Poor’s cited the reason as both sides not working in harmony. Democrat claims that as governor Romney cut taxes on millionaires and raised them on middle income families is false. Further details can be found at factcheck.org a website devoted to correcting lies in politics. What defiles America? Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty. Would not Jesus say that lies defile America (Mark 7:1-23)?
Us and them
This election is so partisan that both sides have fallen into the cesspool of lies and distortion, as one reporter called it “brazenly willing to twist the truth.” But the biased mentality is a lack of understanding of human reality. It is a self-righteousness that labels ourselves good and the other guys evil. Yet, we are all in the same boat and have experienced the same sins in our heart, what the Message terms “obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness.” (Mark 7:1-23). Yet, strangely when we confront evil we think that it is us and them instead of us and us. The “us and them” mentality is a delusion, a lie. It makes us think that we are better than anyone else when we are all hopeless without Jesus Christ.
Burping at the table
I grew up in a family where burping at the table was not allowed and knives and forks were called cutlery. Then I went to a fundamentalist Bible college where we were taught the proper placing of silverware, glasses and plates on the table. Then I learned that burping in China is a compliment to the cook and that other cultures use their hands to eat. Later I saw how traditions like etiquette can contradict the Bible. Etiquette can be an expression of love for neighbor, doing what makes a guest feel comfortable and welcomed. Etiquette can be outright self-aggrandizing snobbery and thus hatred of neighbor in disguise. Etiquette can also be a blind, unthinking adherence to outdated traditions. InMark 7:1-23 Jesus broke with religious etiquette that did away with God’s commands and effectively nullified God’s word.
The real problem with church
Church has problems, but also the Gospel which is the solution to all human problems. What is the real problem with church? Is it the traditions, the burdensome rules made up by men or the politics? In Mark 7:1-23 Jesus discussed a few of the problems of religion 2,000 years ago, but ended up concluding with the real problem. If church did not contain people, it would not have problems. The real problem with church is not that it occasionally gets things terribly wrong, we all do. What is the real source of evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly? The real problem with church is that it contains people and all of the church’s problems come from something that is deep within all of us, the human heart.
The real solution to church
The church has always had problems. Is there an answer? Some think that a solution is a non-denominational or independent church, but a one dollar bill is still a denomination and as long as people gather together there will always be politics. Others try to avoid the institutional church, but even a house church or hermitage for one is organized and therefore an institution. The difference is only scale. Even becoming a hermit does not give us escape from the evil within our own hearts. The real problem is not polity or structure but the human heart (Mark 7:1-23). Running away is not the solution because we go to church to be part of God’s kingdom on earth, and the solution is not from within the human hearts in the church, but the message of the church, the Gospel.
The Protestant Reformation addressed some very important problems with church tradition but it also did away with some good traditions. The church is always in need of reformation, but first we must begin with our own hearts.