12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:12-17 NIV
This is just one of several passages found in the New Testament, written by one of the Apostles, talking about the character and content of the body of Christ. Peace and love, binding people together in unity, is a beautiful picture. Being God’s creation, finding our way back to the image of the one who created us, finding our way past the false boundaries and walls that are built by selfish ambition and the pursuit of our own pleasure to the exclusion of the needs of others, is described as the desire of God for his people.
So why is it that this image of the church is not the way most people would describe the church, any church, or a church organization? Why do we continue to fall short of God’s desire?
“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” Mark 7:8.
Does that seem like it is too simplistic? I don’t think it is. I’ve learned, by observation during something like 30 years of various kinds of vocational ministry, that people tend to do exactly as they please, and in order to reconcile their faith to their actions, they are quite willing to replace the commands of God with their own traditions. Tradition has to look like genuine faith, and the end result of that is that it will come into conflict with someone else’s faith tradition as well as the commands of God, especially passages like this one in Colossians.
So once we have developed our own faith tradition, we can then use it to justify what we want to do. We can use it to judge the faith of others against our own, and pronounce theirs inferior on the basis of a doctrinal or theological analysis of its weakness. We can use it to create our own loopholes with regard to our decisions to ignore passages of scripture we don’t like, such as Romans 13 with regard to submission to governing authorities and how it should be applied, or the words of Christ in Matthew 7:1-5 about judging others, or even this passage in Colossians about being unified in the love and peace of Christ.
The traditions of men are about control. And if the control of anything is in human hands, God isn’t part of it.
It is especially tempting for those of us who were raised in the church to want to have it the way we like it. We love our church, we love the fellowship and the ministry that takes place there. We get used to it being the way we like it and we sometimes forget that the way we see things isn’t perfect vision, and it may not line up with the way others see them. It is tempting, especially if we are in a position to have some control, to make the church we love and belong to conform to our own traditions, and use the loopholes we created to justify what we do as if it were equal to God’s commands.
That’s why there are church splits. That’s why the church’s reputation in the community is not anywhere close to what it should be. That’s why there are denominations and within them, further divisions. That’s why there are two state Baptist conventions in Texas. That’s why so many people in our culture today express an interest in spiritual things, including a willingness to explore the idea of what it means to have faith in Christ, but they don’t see that going to the church will help them accomplish that. And it seems that, even though the church is made up of imperfect beings who live in the flesh and are prone to regular failure and frequent falls, the lessons that we should learn about all of this are difficult to absorb.
Love. Peace. Unity in the body through Christ. Building a church that lives in obedience to God and is the body of Christ in the world.
Let’s pray that we will be all that God wants us to be. In all things.