Matthew 15:1-20 – Can Cool Modern Churches Slide Into Tradition?

Posted: January 6, 2016 in Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 15
Matthew 15:1-20
Jesus Teaches About Inner Purity
Have you ever noticed that even in our modern style worship services that we have our own traditions that have developed over the past 10-15 years since the advent of what I call the new wave of churches? When I say new wave, I mean churches that have modern music styles, don’t necessarily meet in a traditional church building with a steeple such as that. The new wave of churches was a necessary reaction to the staleness that had come to many traditional churches. It was a reaction against tradition. However, anything man-made has a tendency to move toward repetition and tradition – even in new wave churches. Hey, I go to a new wave church. We have a non-traditional worship center. We have modern music with electric guitars and drums. We are a classic new wave church. After observing new wave churches over the past 15 years or so, there are certain traditions that are must-haves in new wave churches. If you don’t have them, then, people will begin asking questions as to why you don’t have the appropriate markers of a new wave church. First, you have to have a coffee shop. Every new wave church has one. Starbucks meets modern church. You have to have a catchy name for your youth ministries to the children and to the teenagers. It can’t be kids ministry or the teen ministry. It has to have a cool one word name that makes you scratch your head as to what it really means. And cool logos. We must have cool logos. You have to have a welcome center of some sort. You have to have a worship with removable chairs cause pews just won’t do. You have to have a kiosks for information and, of course, for giving. You have to have flat screen TVs everywhere. You must have a significant investment in your sound system and particularly the lighting system. You must have a fog/haze making system. You must have a young, hip worship leader with skinny jeans. You must have a pastor that has the slightly unshaven look or goatee at least. Bumper videos are a must. Massive attention getting community events are must as well.

I am not saying that there’s anything wrong with this if your modern church has these things. I go to a church that is not unlike many of the modern, new wave churches of our day. I go to this church because it is modern. It is built to reach the modern audience. After growing up in traditional churches with old organs and even older pianos, robes on the preacher and the choir, hard pews, and singing hymns that are at least 100-150 years old, listening to a scripted sermon from preachers who do not move from behind the pulpit, I embrace the newness of my church. I embrace that it embraces technology. I love my church. I love the power and the passion of the music and the sound of the music suits my musical tastes. If new wave churches are a reaction to the traditional, we must be wary of falling into ruts of newness ourselves. Just look at us, even though we go to churches that are a reaction to tradition, we have our traditions too. Heck, even at new wave churches, we all sit in the same place every Sunday no matter what and we will get slightly annoyed if we cannot sit in the same general area of the worship center that we normally do. We have our traditions just like the traditional churches do. They look different from the traditional churches but we have them too. We would feel uncomfortable without our first class audio/visual experiences at modern churches. We would feel uncomfortable without our coffee shops. We would feel uncomfortable without our cool kids and teen ministries. We would feel uncomfortable without our unique logos that make people ask questions. We would feel uncomfortable if our pastors on stage did not have that modern edgy look. We have expectations of what modern church is. It is not dissimilar in many ways to the traditions of traditional churches. People there find comfort in the old hymns that tie them to history. People there find comfort in the colors on the pulpit and communion table that symbolize seasons of the church year and defined by some church father many years ago. They find comfort in the cross being brought into the church as the service begins. They find comfort in their elementary school kids being the acolytes and lighting the candles. They find comfort in ushers passing the plate down your pew row and those plates must be rich wood or gold plated. They find comfort in the steeple of the church though they are not altogether sure what the steeple represents as the origin of it dates back a thousand years. They find comfort in the Sunday school building full of classrooms that are only used one day maybe two per week. They find comfort in the traditions of the traditional church just as we have begun to take comfort in the traditions of new church. Each of us can let these things take the place of what is really important.

The Jews were the same way in Jesus’ day. After many a century in the promised land, they have developed many traditions over and above what was found in God’s Word. God gave the Israelites specific ceremonial and spiritual laws to set them apart from the rest of the world. Much of the ceremonial law was simply to create a clean and orderly society that was free from disease and nastiness that much of the world knew. The other commands were to ensure that they were a holy people and observed what God knew to be good for them. He wanted a holy nation that by their behavior and their actions would bring glory to God to all the nations of the world. However, the Jews had gotten so caught up in not violating the law and in keeping its provisions that they had forgotten the heart of it. They had added layers and layers of traditions that were not in the Bible just so that they would not violate the prohibitions of God’s Law or help them to maintain their keeping of the Law. They had begun to accept these traditions as Scripture, as necessary parts of being holy, as necessary parts of being a good Jew. It is not too unlike the Roman Catholic Church today with its layers of papal doctrine that is accepted as equal to Scripture. Jesus took this idea head on when, in Matthew 15:1-20, He says,
5 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’[a] and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[b] 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

8 “‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
9 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’[c]”

10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides.[d] If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”

16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

Wow, so much for the modern day view of Jesus as this accepting of all things kind of guy. He pretty much lays the wood to us here. The Pharisees and teachers of religious law had over the centuries since their return from Babylonian captivity developed many traditions that had added to God’s law. There was a dizzying array of traditions that made it all hard to keep up with. There were scribes, equivalent to religious lawyers and scholars, who issued interpretatations of all these traditions as they applied to every day situations. All of it made the law itself what the Jews worshiped. They had forgotten the heart of the law. They had forgotten why God gave them the law to begin with. It was to cause them to worship God as the giver of life and the giver of redemption. Tradition can add richness to our understanding of God. However the symbols cannot be the thing we worship. We cannot live life to avoid violating God’s law rather than living a life that honors Him. When we get so tied up in traditions that we fail to worship God because the traditions are what we worship we have missed the whole point. Traditions are only useful if they are markers that point us to God. They are detrimental when the traditions become gods to us instead of God.

It is the same with churches today, whether traditional or modern. We must be all about worshipping God and loving others. Love God. Love Others. Plain and simple. If we get caught up in the things we are supposed to have as modern, new wave churches like cool sound and light shows, the cool café, the cool bookstore, the cool church merchandise like t-shirts and bumper stickers and the latest cool books by the coolest Christian authors, and we have cool names for our ministries, and we have hip looking worship pastors and senior pastors, but yet we fail to preach the gospel to a world that needs to hear it then we are just like the Jews of Jesus’ day. If we play electric guitars and drums instead of pipe organs and pianos because that is the way to reach this generation, but we fail to preach the gospel and we fail to disciple them into a deeper and deeper relationship with the real Jesus (not the anything goes Jesus that everyone wants to make him out to be), then we are no better than the first century religious elite of Jesus’ day. We must be about preaching about sin and its costs. We must be about preaching what our sin sentences us to. We must be about that so that we can appreciate the preaching of a Savior not a self-help guru. We must be about teaching salvation through this Savior that gives us a new lease on life, the eternal life. We must be about developing new believers into more mature believers as time goes on so that they too can turn around and mentor others in their walk with Christ. We must must must be about teaching about honoring God in everything we do. We must also love others in uncommon ways just as Christ did for us. If we are not growing disciples of Christ who are becoming more and more like Him day by day, then we are not doing what Jesus called us to do. If we get caught up in looking cool and being the cool church, then we have in a way become Pharisees. It’s all about loving God and loving others. That is the message of God in His Word. We can add nothing to that.

Amen and Amen.

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