Revivals often address some very important problems in the church. Some say that the revival that we call the Protestant Reformation did not go far enough and others say that it threw the baby out with the bath water. Jesus’ revival, on the other hand, was perfect. What can we learn from it?
Let’s understand that the church is always in need of revival, but that first we allow God to revive us on the inside.
Let’s discuss good, neutral and bad traditions. Let’s discuss Jesus’ basics for revival in the church.
Mark 7:1 One day some Pharisees and teachers of religious law arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. 2 They noticed that some of his disciples failed to follow the Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating. 3 (The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their ancient traditions. 4 Similarly, they don’t eat anything from the market until they immerse their hands in water. This is but one of many traditions they have clung to—such as their ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles.)
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked him, “Why don’t your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.” 6 Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’ 8 For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.”
9 Then he said, “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition . 10 For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ 11 But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ 12 In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. 13 And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others.”
14 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.”
17 Then Jesus went into a house to get away from the crowd, and his disciples asked him what he meant by the parable he had just used. 18 “Don’t you understand either?” he asked. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? 19 Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.)
20 And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness . 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”
Traditions without Heart (Mark 7:1-4)
Pharisees from Jerusalem, where the school of Gamaliel was, probably included Paul. Both Paul and perhaps also Gamaliel later converted to Christianity. The Pharisees were a political-religious party in a world without separation of church and state. Out of the first century, two new Jewish religions emerged, Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. The Pharisees formed the foundation for Rabbinic Judaism from which stems modern mainstream Judaism. The Sadducees interpreted the law literally. The Pharisees interpreted it liberally, adding many written traditions, often called the second Talmud. This is similar to what some branches of the church have done by equating scripture and tradition. Tradition ought to be second not equal to scripture. For instance, Pharisees took Old Testament ritual washings, literally meant for the priests only, and applied them to everyone. This included requiring a ritual hand washing before a meal.
Baptism of Hands
A Baptist understanding of the Greek word baptize is incomplete 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 also shows another use of the word baptize, to wash or cleanse. The disciples had failed to ceremonially wash their cupped 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 a 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.
A Facade of Piety (Mark 7:5-8)
Some criticize tradition, calling it religion. Jesus did not criticize religion, but hypocrisy. James praised pure religion: caring for the poor and holy living. Some rituals are optional, not demanded by Jesus. This is not an excuse for dirty hands. It was a ritual baptism up to the elbows before eating, a tradition. Jesus focused on what is in our hearts. Hypocrisy is not just saying one thing and doing another as some claim, otherwise we are all hypocrites. We all have ideals but know that we fail to live up to them. A hypocrite is someone who may be faithful to tradition but ignores love. They put on a facade of piety hiding who they really are. Tradition is not sin, but substituting tradition while ignoring the basis of our religion which is love, is the sin of hypocrisy.
Misuse of Tradition (Mark 7:9-13)
Any tradition becomes an idol when it is placed ahead of God. There is nothing innately sinful or evil about any tradition except when it is used to sidestep God’s law and cancel the word of God. One example of many is that Jesus was angry with them for using tradition as an excuse for dishonoring parents. Do we do anything similar? According to Pew Research 92% of the 114th Congress identifies as Christian, higher than last congress and more than the general population. Many of them have voted against feeding the hungry, welcoming foreigners, clothing the naked, health care for the sick and other ways of loving our neighbor? Why? Is it because in politics, religion gets votes but does not change hearts? Have we allowed our political traditions to sidestep God’s law and cancel the word of God?
When we read the Song of Solomon it may sound mushy to modern ears, but we have to remember this is a picture of pure love, not some raunchy Hollywood scene. When we look at a young couple in love, imagine the pure love between Christ and his Church. Pure, young love is a beautiful thing. When we read Psalm 45 we imagine the pure monarchy of Jesus Christ, not the greedy and selfish monarchies of this world. Christians need no king but Jesus. As a pure, loving king, he died for his people; he wants the best for his people and deserves our unfailing love and devotion. When we read James 1:17-27 we learn about God’s pure religion, not just outward trappings, but the religion of caring for the poor and keeping our hearts uncorrupted by the world.
Tradition without heart (Mark 7:17-23)
In Acts 10 Peter was commanded by God to eat unclean foods. He realized that particular law was no longer relevant, dividing between clean from unclean meats and Jew from Gentile. Jesus declared that uncleanness comes not from food but our hearts. Many traditions are not necessary for salvation nor is criticism of those who do not follow them. Perhaps that is why our basic Christian rituals are so few, baptism and communion. Real religion is caring for the poor and holy living, according to James. Matters of the heart are most important. Jesus listed vices such as evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness in a similar that Paul did in Galatians 5. Rituals alone do not cleanse what really defiles us, the wrong thoughts from inside our hearts.
There is no doubt that every denomination needs some kind of ongoing revival. How do we enjoy this without creating division? Jesus challenged not only religious traditions but the interpretation of the Bible behind them. Similar to, but more perfect than the Protestant Reformation, Jesus’ revival was not based in the highest offices of his day, but in the grass roots of that society. Although our outward form of religion can easily change, Jesus' priority in revival was the religion of 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. The true basis for revival is not in overemphasizing outward things but in the heart. Allow the Holy Spirit to revive the inside and the outside will take care of itself.
The real problem with church
Church has always had problems, but it also has the Gospel, the solution to all human problems. What is the real problem with church? Jesus discussed a few of our problems and concluded with the real answer. 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 problems in any church? The real problem with church is that it contains people and our problems come from deep within all of us, from the human heart. Is the solution staying away from church and people? We go to church to be part of God’s kingdom on earth. The solution is not the rituals in the church, but the power of Jesus Christ to change our human hearts.
A revival may address some obvious outward problems in the church. But, for a revival to be lasting, it must first we must begin with our own hearts.