Feb 04, 2009
The Drug of Tradition
I believe God is the one who originally created tradition because it was a way to supply His people with a temporary synthetic power until Christ came. In Old Testament times, God could not live inside of His people because their sin had not been atoned, so He gave them the law and tradition. Many people from other cultures had tradition at that time, but only the Israelites were given God's law, coupled with tradition. There is a power in "right tradition" that would serve the people well and keep them safe until the time came for the indwelling of God's Spirit.
Like that cheap donut-tire they give us now as a spare, "right tradition" was put in place as a temporary power force and guide until we made it to the next town. It was not a dose that was meant to be used forever. It was much like a narcotic pain killer which, if taken properly, will mask the pain with little side effects. If taken improperly, however,it provides a high that is addictive and extremely difficult to break free from. Competent doctors are careful to prescribe only enough for the patient until the pain subsides.
To this day, there is something strangely alluring about the Old Testament "right traditions." Because we are long past the time where we would need this power, its effects are compelling to the soul and downright addictive. Our dabbling with the power of tradition in the New Testament times is like popping Vicodin long after the pain has left; it gives us an intoxicating buzz.
Almost any day of the week, I can switch on Christian television and someone is retracing the Old Testament temple traditions with an excited gleam in their eye. I can literally see the high they're receiving, as they giddily move from one priestly tradition to the next. Over and over, they'll recount, retrace, retell and relive those soul-tingling traditions, and each time they do, there is another high awaiting them. Some people have actually devoted their entire ministry to studying the traditions of the Old Testament times.
I believe this drug of old is so intoxicating that it has infiltrated most of modern-day Christian thinking. The moment something powerful and beautifully intimate happens between God and one of us, we immediately begin popping our Old Testament Vicodin. We surround that sincere event with a step-by-step formula that will explain why it happened and ensure it will happen again. We create a template, then practice and rehearse over and over until we start feeling spiritually inebriated. The tradition template never produces that move of God we originally experienced, but we usually don't notice because we're too loaded from doing the formula dance steps. This same pattern can be seen one way or another in almost every Christian belief and practice in the church today. From worship and prayer to giving and fasting, we have exchanged the natural course of these things for a template that promises results. Many of us have become addicted to the template over the actual results.
Following that recipe becomes a way of life for many. It thrills us. It's not about what comes of it all; it's about the thrill of adding each ingredient. Church services are almost always formed from the same template. Worship, followed by announcements, more worship and then the offering. The sermon followed by the altar call and then the benediction. Week in and week out, we follow this same traditional blueprint and we even go as far as to attribute the recipe to God Himself. Pastors all over America say, "This is God's plan for Church," irrespective of the fact that nowhere in all of scripture is our modern day church template found. The tradition is what keeps us coming back for more. We're addicted to it. To the rest of the world, we look like the lazy sluggard who drives around town with the donut spare tire on their car like it was made for it.
God knew that when the time came to wean the Israelites from their "right tradition" addiction, He would have to do it with something consistent with law, yet completely incompatible with it. Where there was once law and tradition, God replaced it with GRACE and TRUTH. Grace frustrates tradition's power, because grace does not follow the recipe. It moves according to flavor and taste. Truth hides itself from the eyes of people drunk with tradition.
When tradition was created, it was intended for the carnal, because the people's hearts were dead. At the resurrection, however, hearts came to life. When that occurred, grace and truth were there with open arms. Today, tradition tingles the mind of the carnal and oppresses the heart of the spiritual. To the spiritually-minded person, grace is both the heartbeat and the breath of life, but to the carnal-minded person, it is as useless and ineffective as a stone. People who live from their heads instead of their hearts, can't stand the concept of grace because grace requires us to take our hands off the steering wheel and allow ourselves to be driven. The thrill of being the driver is taken away.
Making the decision to break free from the tradition templates and live in the wild requires confidence and good old-fashioned guts. It's difficult to stand up and declare what happened to you when it clearly doesn't match up with any religious templates the church currently has. The "heretic cannons" begin firing almost immediately and before you know it, you end up looking like the crazy camper who claims to have been abducted by a UFO. Your credibility gets shot to hell and if you're not careful, you'll even find yourself questioning the authenticity of your experience.
I've found that being a Free Believer is like exiting the drug world. You literally have to end all associations with the people who use and sell the drug you were addicted to. It's a lonely world and takes a bold resolve to endure. Much of the time in the wild is spent detoxing from the drug of tradition and learning to live without the synthetic high you were once addicted to. I have found that the rest of the time in the wild is spent healing from thought patterns that constantly attempt to build tradition around anything authentic. Learning to live by grace and truth alone is a process. The longer we do it, the better we become.
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