Friday, April 17, 2009

Tradition Sucks.

"Hey, when I showed up, I didn't go about using big words or religious terminology. I didn't pretend to be more educated or have special insight when I told you about my experience with God. It was my goal to know of nothing except Jesus Christ, crucified, when I was with you guys. I was weak and afraid. Very afraid. My thoughts, my message weren't from a high vernacular, not set in persuasion or wisdom. They were a demonstration of the Holy Spirit's raw power, so that you can have faith because of God and his power, not me or any other man."
--1 Corinthians 2:1-5, paraphrased

Just so you know that I'm not completely off my rocker with my (admittely biased) paraphrasing, here's the NIV:
"When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power."

I finally am reading the rest of Pagan Christianity, and will move immediately onto Reimagining Church after this. It's a good sign when books like this have you straight up read some scripture, and this one stood out to me. A few choice quotes from this chapter, with my thoughts: "The sermon creates an excessive and pathological dependence on the clergy. The semon make the preacher the religious specialist—the only one having anything worthy to say. Everyone else is treated as a second-class Christian—a silent pew warmer. (While this is not usually voiced, it is the unspoken reality.)"
Not only is that a doozy of a first sentence ("excessive and pathological dependence"), it's a good one. I find, as I read this and as I consider my experience on my own, that that last parenthetical phrase is anything but unimportant. It instead describes the church I know all to often. "Bad" things are often not voiced, or even vocally denied or condemned, but in reality are all too true and present. Things like this class system, the idea that the pastor is above everyone and the focus of Christianity (have you ever seen a church? The chapter on architecture was fascinating), the concept of love the sinner, hate the sin, the idea that works are a necessary result of "faith", the ridiculous obsession with wealth and prosperity. But those are getting into other issues. Back to the topic at hand:
"It [the sermon] has become so entrenched in the Christian mind that most Bible-believing pastors and laymen fail to see that they are affirming and perpetuating an unscriptural practice out of sheer tradition. The sermon has become permanently embedded in a complex organizational structure that is far removed from first-century church life." And a quote from David C. Norrington, author of To Preach or Not to Preach: "The sermon is, in practice, beyond criticism. It has become an end in itself, sacred—the product of a distorted reverence for 'the tradition of the elders' seems strangely inconsistent that those who are most disposed to claim that the Bible is the Word of God, the 'supreme guide in all matters of faith and practice' are amongst the first to reject biblical methods in favor of the 'broken cisterns' of their fathers (Jeremiah 2:13)."

The power of tradition is intimidating, and overwhelming. It is not always bad, but can often perpetuate bad practice. Tradition is the only reason that a majority of Christians (by my estimation, anyway) will tell you that people laughed at Noah, there was no rain before the flood, there were three wise men that showed up when Jesus was born, and Jesus had a whip when he chased the sellers out of the temple. None of these have the slightest shred, however, of Scriptural evidence. It is also the reason that some churches (like mine) have sacred communion tables, polyester choir robes, and yes, the sacred sermon (which every church that I've been to has). And it's not a good reason. There are many reasons that the sermon as it stands is a bad idea. And you should read Pagan Christianity. Because it's really, really good.

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