This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Setting the Record Straight about Traditions of Men - Colossians 2:8

"Tradition" - never has a word been more maligned, misunderstood, and villainized in contemporary religious circles as is this one. Often, those of us who are liturgical Christians - as well as a number of old-fashioned Protestants, such as independent Baptists, Old-Order Mennonites, conservative Wesleyan-Holiness, and old-time Pentecostals - are targeted by so-called "progressive" Evangelicals and we are accused of following "traditions of men." Problem is, many of the people making such accusations fail to understand that they are taking this whole subject totally out of context. So, although this is not meant to be a dissertation, hopefully it will aid in clearing up the misunderstandings that are often widely broadcast against more traditionally-minded Christians, and maybe it will even help some who read this to re-evaluate their own misunderstandings about this, as in essence what has happened is the iconoclastic anti-traditionalism that is rampant in some professing Christian circles is more a "tradition of men" than some of the things they attack.

The issue centers around one particular verse, and it is Colossians 2:8. Like so many things that seem to be built on one verse, this has a lot of misunderstanding and bad exegesis based on either prejudice on the part of the interpreters or maybe due to some bad experience the person spouting the anti-tradition rant had in a more traditional church. Here is the text of that verse from the New King James:

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.

Note that I purposely bolded one part of this verse, and here's why - the verse is not talking about long-held practices of either the Christian Church, nor of the Hebraic tradition it evolved out of at the time the Apostle Saint Paul wrote this letter, but rather to worldly philosophies and things of that nature creeping into Christian belief. Consider what the Church Fathers, from whom most of the Holy Tradition of the Christian Church was codified, said. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in his Catechetical Lectures 4.2, says this: "True religion consists of two elements: pious doctrine and virtuous actions. Neither does God accept doctrines apart from works, nor are works, when divorced from godly doctrine, accepted by God..." (Peter Gorday, ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture - New Testament Volume IX {Carol Stream, IL: Intervarsity, 2000} pp. 28-29). In other words, many who are railing against tradition - a popular "Purpose-Driven" author from California comes to mind even as I speak, as well as his "possibility thinking" mentor in nearby Garden Grove, CA - are actually in violation of the verse they use! Oh, but it gets better - Ambrosiastus, in his Commentary on the Letter to Colossians, says this: "He calls that philosophy worldly by which men who desire to be wise in earthly terms are seduced." (ibid) Hmmmm....and to think, all these people who say that the Church should be more "relevant to modern times" and "seeker-friendly," are also in violation of a Scriptural principle then as well!! Getting the first word from the Church Fathers on this - and that was only a couple, as time does not permit to really get into what they said! - it becomes apparent that those people today who use the "traditions of men" charge against those they don't like for singing old hymns, celebrating liturgically, or using an organ in church, are in reality condemning themselves! Reason is, the verse is talking about using the wisdom of the world to attempt to preach the word of God!!! And, on that, a lot of today's Christianity falls tragically short, as the world's ways are becoming too accepted in the church - a church in California pastored by a well-known writer on the "Christian market," as an example, uses music from an antichrist group like the Beatles as worship music! Even the Christian college I graduated from, which in its day was noted for having powerful moves of God on campus, has replaced campus revivals with these ridiculous - and boring! - seminars on church growth, and sessions like "How to Make Your Church More Business Savvy" by using as inspiration the writings of greedy, humanistic corporate moguls rather than following the Holy Spirit in getting pastors of churches the renewal of their spirits they so desperately need. Business seminars and rock music are the ways of the world; they are the new "tradition of men' the world goes by and have no business in the Church! And, it is these very things that the Apostle Paul was instructing the Colossian Church to avoid in the letter. Thing is, they probably had enough sense to listen, whereas our generation is led by other things rather than our desire to be more Christlike.

I have nothing against, by the way, churches practicing good business and integrity. There are legal guidelines and things churches must follow, and also our churches need to be quality stewards of the money and other assets that support their work. However, when those things become the driving force of a church's existence, then it causes problems. Therefore, good instruction in proper finances for churches, as well as maintaining proper non-profit standards, etc., have their place, but not at the expense of the Church's spiritual purpose. I wanted to just say that up-front before I move on.

The balking of certain things by modern Churchianity in order to make itself more palatable to sinners has also had some dire consequences. Since a lot of this nonsense is targeted at the youth culture, the first evaluation that must be noted is what success such measures have had. To answer that, I refer you to Evangelical counselor Josh McDowell's 2006 book entitled The Last Christian Generation (Holiday, FL: Green Key Books, 2006) and these shocking statistics he noted on page 15:

*63% (of church-going youth) don't believe Jesus is the Son of the one true God
*58% believe all faiths teach equally valid truths
* 51% don't believe Jesus (physically) rose from the dead
* 65% don't believe Satan is a real entity
* 68% don't believe the Holy Spirit is a real entity

Note those things - these are fundamental doctrines that professing Christian kids are saying they don't believe in! I might also add that an increasing number of kids from supposedly Evangelical/Pentecostal/conservative churches have more or less said they would support same-sex marriages, have had premarital sex, have experimented with alcohol and drugs, consult horoscopes and other occultic practices (a surprising number of "good church kids" have made J.K. Rowling, the author of the popular occultic fantasy series Harry Potter, a very rich woman too!), and have no problem with abortion and birth control. McDowell later, on page 18, quotes a study done by Christian researcher/statician George Barna by noting that 98% of professed "born again Christian" young people, while saying they "believe in Christ," nonetheless do not reflect Christlike attitudes or actions. Ironically many of these self-professed "born again" kids were discipled in churches where the pastors were often discipled themselves by the likes of Bill Hybels, James Rutz, Rick Warren, and others who say they are "called" to make the church more "seeker-friendly," and as part of that the mantra of "tradition" being contemptously treated as a cussword is all these kids have heard, so as a result they have gotten a watered-down Gospel that hardly resembles what the Church has faithfully taught for 2000 years. Many of these same kids also question God's creation, and many of them believe they come from monkeys or ocean sludge rather than being created in the image of a loving God. All of these are "traditions of men" the Apostle Paul instructed against - the Church is, and always will be, counter-cultural; just because some things are accepted by the world, even for generations, does not make them right in God's eyes. For instance, getting back to our friend Rick Warren. This man, while professing to be a Baptist pastor, has caused more division in the Body of Christ because he has taken young, impressionable pastors under his poisoned wing and has taught them that the "pillars of the church" are no longer important, but rather the "new way" of "driving our purpose," and a lot of that thinking is based not on the Bible nor the Holy Tradition of the Church, but rather on the worldly traditions of man-centered philosophy. Case in point is this - James Sundquist, in his excellent critique of Warren's philosophy entitled Who's Driving the Purpose-Driven Church? (Oklahoma City, OK: Bible Belt Publishing, 2004), notes on page 53 a key component of this "Purpose-Driven" teaching - he quotes from Rick Warren's own Purpose Driven Life from page 42 which says this: "It's the view of life that you hold, consciously or subconsciously, in your mind." The problem with Warren's reasoning is that it is based on Freud and Jungian psychobabble (there you go - "traditions of men"!) rather than on Scriptural principle, wherein lies the problem. By separating the bulwarks and foundations of Christian belief from today's churches, Warren and his kind are easily replacing them with other "traditions," none of which are new, that are undermining the very foundations of our young people's faith. Let me give an example of this I noted recently too. Barb and I like watching this program on ABC Family Channel on Mondays called The Secret Life of the American Teenager, and although it is an entertaining show, it has one character that really disturbs me. Grace is an attractive 16-year-old girl who is quite open about her Christianity, yet for some reason she finds no problem with having sex with her male classmates "as long as it is a loving relationship," which in her reasoning somehow pleases God. As a matter of fact, if you watch some of the recent episodes, the girl is a downright nymphomaniac! The reason the show is so good though is that it pretty much portrays what the typical "born again" kid is thinking nowadays - there are a lot of Graces running around out there. Yet, instead of preaching against this behavior, most pastors take their cues from Rick Warren, who says it's all part of the culture and must be accepted. The scary thing about that is that Rick Warren is only a couple of steps removed from one Moses Berg, who in the late 1960's led a Pentecostal-like cult called the Children of God that advocated a practice called "flirty fishing," which in essence means using prostitution for "evangelistic purposes." I wonder if that is what Rick Warren's next book will be in the future - "The Purpose-Driven Prostitute." I mean, in his reasoning Mary Magdalene was one (he forgot that she repented though!) so why would it not be Scriptural?? Or what about having "Christian Hash Brownie Bakeoffs," in which marijuana is baked into baked goods to "Bake Kids for Jesus!" I mean, after all, did not God create marijuana too, so why not?? Those were ridiculous examples, but that is exactly the train of thought these so-called "traditions of men" among the "seeker-friendly" ministers have, and mark my word, it is only a matter of time until many supposedly professing conservative Evangelical churches will be following in the footsteps of the now-liberal mainline churches they originally came out of by accepting such things as same-sex marriages, etc. - what I am saying is that one day some Nazarene churches will not be much different than their liberal United Methodist forebears from whence they came (not picking on the Nazarenes, but that is just an example). That is why the Church must re-discover its roots, and instead of chucking the rich traditions of the Christian past, they should be learning more about them, for that is where their revival will come. And, in the process, the Church of today, both Catholic and Protestant, could do with a real housecleaning - chuck out these worldly "traditions of men" instead and return to their roots. Revival will come to the Church in these latter days, as God did promise it, but it will come to a people who revere and love his Truth, and not to those who seek the ear-tickling "traditions of men" gleaned by supposed pastors from ungoldy sources just to sell a few million books to make their bank accounts richer.

So, thus is my teaching for this week, and again, it will probably tick off some people, as some hearts are becoming harder by the day, yet at the same time there is a generation of people out there who are hungry - I hear every day of more and more people under the age of 50 who are drawn to the historic liturgy and worship of the Christian Church, and they are falling in love with old hymnody, the teachings and spiritual writings of the Church Fathers, and many of them are choosing more conservative lifestyles. And, they belong in a variety of Christian traditions too - Baptist, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, etc. But they need a lot of prayer too, as houses of worship that teach the old truths are harder and harder to find, and many are hungry but cannot have that hunger satisfied. Therefore, these posts are for you as well, and may they edify and give you the encouragement that you are not alone. God bless each and every one of you who read this, and will see you next time.