To my readers who attend church, what was your favorite part of the whole experience? I’m an audio engineer and musician, so the music was always more mechanical observation than worship. When it came to the sermons I have plenty of theological studies under my belt, so I also analyzed that for specific theological points. I was moved by it all and remained engaged throughout every bit of the service, but I felt like I was consistently letting God down. Not because anything was written down in the Bible, but because of the tradition of being moved by the experience. Biblical historical texts such as 1st and 2nd Samuel show David worshipping like the child who would be the cause of many disapproving stares and murmurs of parental responsibility at far too many churches. Reread those portions of the Bible and you will see that these are things that people do, and are not commanded by God. I couldn’t tell the difference between normal and normative for most of my life, and I had questions that had to start with that distinction.
My wife for years had been following the rules of what it means to be a Christian, but never moved on to a real connection with God. This is normal today and so many people who live this way will be horrified when their life comes to an end. Then one day my wife was particularly fed up with me, and we went through a short separation. During this time she got some of the connection she was missing, by seeking help from one of our heavily charismatic friends. My wife thought and still thinks that her life was saved by this experience and maybe it was, but she came back with more rules and more superstition than connection. This led to her condemning me and trying to “help” me. So this was where I started to question the status quo. I had to find a way to cope with our disagreement, so I dug into the Bible and came to the realization that the fundamental problem isn’t as cut and dry as right and wrong. It is an issue of tradition, and not being legalistic.
Legalism describes being so attached to the letter of the law that the spirit of the law is entirely missed. Legalists justify their unbiblical belief with appeals to authority, where the authority is either themselves or the mainstream Christian culture that believes the word of man to be the word of God. We are so far removed from the patriotic faith of the 1500s A. D. but we still hold on to tradition despite having no biblical basis for its existence or any idea why, how or when many traditions come from. We won’t be put to death for doubting like we would have 500+ years ago, but the idea that questioning tradition is sacrilege has stayed with us.This issue goes back to around 600-700 B. C. when Israel was invaded and taken captive.
Israel was split into two countries starting in the last years of King Solomon’s life, lasting until the end of the Babylonian Captivity. Prior to the captivity, Israel had a long history of obeying God for a time and then messing up big. Finally, God allowed Israel to fail in a big way and Babylon invaded and Assyria invaded Judah. During that time Babylon assimilated Assyria, and the two broken pieces of Judah and Israel are forced back together under the humiliation of being forcibly removed from their homeland. Even more amazing, after living 70 years in exile some were allowed to stay in Persia, while the rest left were able to leave in large groups in order to rebuild Jerusalem. Persia helped them rebuild their capital and religious center, and returned much of what was plundered during the initial invasion and captivity. So to wrap up the story, Israel and Judah turned away from God who allowed them to be taken prisoner on a massive scale. Due to the nature of governments at the time, Babylon took control of Assyria causing the two Jewish nations to rejoin to some degree under Babylon. Then Babylon fell to Persia. Persia released Israel, returned their wealth, helped them rebuild. The result was a set of new traditions and laws designed to make sure that Israel never returns to captivity, or fall out of favor with God again.
For example, one of these new traditions took the law that said that carrying out work on the Sabbath was wrong, and added that a person could only take so many steps on the Sabbath. Further ridiculousness ensued, and then Jesus came along and condemned them for their legalistic view of God and died because of their legalism. Now here we are, nailing Jesus back onto the cross with all sorts of new legalism. In the year 70 A. D. Jerusalem was attacked again, this time by Rome. Rome totally destroyed Jerusalem under their emperor Nero. He robbed Jerusalem of any ability to carry out their traditions by destroying all family records. Some of those records were found after the fact, but many family histories were lost entirely. The line of priests that was meticulously kept track of since the time of Aaron (Moses’ brother), was lost. Under the law, sacrifices could only be carried out by priests, and there was no way to tell who a priest was. Tradition led to the death of Christ, and real Judaism is lost to history.
This has hardly been a complete commentary on Jewish history, and if I am wrong on any point I hope you will call me out on it. My point is that tradition has the potential to cause monumental pain. In a post-modern world, I would go so far as to say that tradition should have no place in modern Christian thought. We need to go back to scripture, and base our belief on what the Bible says and not on what culture or tradition says. Be traditionless.