“You abandon the commandments of God and hold to human traditions”. Harsh words!
Perhaps we should take a good hard look at ourselves. It is necessary and of course inevitable that a lot, if not most of what we hold dear in the church are in fact man made traditions – robes and stoles, choirs, both ornate liturgies and evangelical praise services, the Latin Mass or the BCP, the Papacy, ornate Gothic cathedrals....I could go on and on.
If I could amend an evangelical phrase WWJD (What would Jesus do?) I might wonder, in the light of that sentence about the traditions of men “What would Jesus think about all this?”
“What would his reaction be? Do you think this is what he had in mind?”
It seems to me that the answer to that question would sound something like this. There is nothing inherently wrong in any of these traditions so long as you realise and know in your heart that they are all signposts pointing to a greater truth and a greater reality. They have no power or validity apart from the Spirit and presence of God to which they all should lead us to.
The sin is when we start to give greater worth to the form rather than the substance. The substance is always the divine and God’s character and will, revealed in scripture and in Jesus himself – his life, teachings, death and resurrection.
When religion or church becomes an end in itself we have short circuited the system. We are communing with death rather than life.
Our link to this greater reality is the energising and active power of God’s Holy Spirit.
We all have our preferences when it comes to church forms and traditions but if any of them fail to reveal God’s will and purpose, fail to reveal and immerse us in the divine Grace then they are dead and deficient.
We can often forget that the purpose of all these traditions is to make us more alive, to bring fullness of life by plugging us in to the source of life itself. The mode of doing that is secondary.
A Quaker service will do it for some people, a BCP service for others, a modern communion service or a praise service for others. These man-made traditions (some work better than others, some may be past their sell by date) all have the same aim, the same rationale.
To challenge, admonish and instruct us in the ways of God certainly but primarily they are constructed so we may feel God and his saving love for us. And through that touch be changed.
One of the saddest things about much Christian worship of whatever form or denomination is that if we don’t enter into it with anticipation that we may touch the divine, or be gathered in to God’s presence to be sent out energised with the Spirit, then we won’t be. We don’t expect it and we don’t experience it because even before we start we are disengaged, literally dis-spirited. And worship then becomes a lifeless thing fuelled by grim duty rather than any sense of life giving joy.
Regardless of the forms used, the only reason any of this makes any sense is if Jesus is risen.
He was and is alive, not far from any one of us, and in bread and wine we are encouraged to reach out, to taste and see his presence with us at all times by His Spirit, but in a specially focussed way in our sharing a communal meal together where God is the host and Jesus is our food.