Traditions, Taboos, and Superstitions

Today I watched a powerful video, When the Rabbi Says "Come," for the second time. It’s one section of a video called In the Dust of the Rabbi.

Ray Vander Laan’s excellent portrayal of life in Galilee and the background of the Gospels is so helpful that I purchased a copy for my family even though it’s a bit pricey. I also got the study guide, so I could go over it carefully with the children.

But this blog is not about Vander Laan’s convicting and important teaching. It’s about the fact that even a man like Vander Laan, whose study of the geography and culture of the Bible has led him to strongly emphasize a life-changing discipleship, is confined by semantic taboos every bit as much as those less well-informed.

His study guide says:

Jesus and his disciples had a very different view of discipleship. They made no distinction between "being saved" and living in obedience to God. To be saved was to be totally committed to a life of obedience—to walk as the Rabbi walked, to become like him.

That’s clear, and no one who’s read First John—and believes that it’s God’s Word—could deny that what Vander Laan says is true.

Mark Twain once said, "Laws are sand; customs are rock. Laws can be evaded and punishment escaped, but an openly transgressed custom brings sure punishment."

What Twain says concerns society is no less true of modern Christianity. You can often say things that flatly contradict the Bible yet maintain an audience in the churches. Say something, however, that contradicts well-established tradition, and you will be quickly called to task.

To call Christians to discipleship is no violation of modern tradition, but to tie it to salvation … that’s another story. For Vander Laan to say "They made no distinction between ‘being saved’ and living in obedience to God" is to walk on thin ice despite the fact that he’s practically quoting 1 John.

So Vander Laan adds a line in honor to modern tradition.

They did not do this in order to be saved, but rather because they were saved. (emphasis in original)

We hate to say that we obey to be saved. In fact, custom forbids it.

But does the Bible forbid it.

If so, the apostles didn’t know about it. They had no qualms about tying obedience to salvation, nor about saying that we obey to be saved.

For example:

  • "Therefore, brothers, be diligent to make your calling and election sure because if you do these things you will never stumble, for in this way an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 1:10-11)
  • "What benefit is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith and does not have works? Can faith save him? … You see then that a man is justified by works and not by faith only" (James 2:14,24)
  • God will repay everyone according to their deeds. To those who seek glory, honor, and immortality by patiently continuing to do good, [he will repay] eternal life. (Rom. 2:6-7)

Yes, yes, I know that modern Christians excel at rewording the apostles so that their words don’t violate modern tradition. James, for example, really didn’t mean "justified by works and not by faith only," they say. He meant "justified by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone."

Slick.

But clearly James wasn’t guarding his words the way modern custom prescribes. Neither was Peter. Neither was Paul.

James didn’t follow his statement with, "Oops, sorry. I’m not saying that we do works to be justified. Obviously we do them because we are justified."

Peter didn’t follow his words with, "I didn’t mean that we diligently do these things to enter the kingdom of Jesus Christ. I meant that we diligently do these things because we already have an entrance."

I highly recommend learning to quote the apostles, despite the fact that you will quickly be labeled a heretic. You may find that there’s a reason that between 80 and 95% of people who make a profession of faith don’t even attend church five years later. As you learn to say what the apostles said, I believe you will find that their words will change what you believe as well, slowly delivering you from the vise-like grip of unyielding custom.

By the way, the statistic I quoted in the last paragraph came originally from Ray Comfort’s Hell’s Best Kept Secret. I recommend the book because it describes the problem so well, though I strongly disagree with his solution. We have a Gospel that doesn’t work for the large majority—at least 4 out of 5—of the people who hear it.

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4 Responses to Traditions, Taboos, and Superstitions

  1. Jim Harvey says:

    When I was in the Assemblies of God denomination I always thought the the early pentecostal fathers would wonder what happened to the pentecostal power that they had seen; now, while, re-studying and re-reading the patristic fathers, I think that they would ask the same question as to where are those who truly have and are leaving all to follow Jesus as Lord!

    The problem with today’s christianity is easy-believism. All you have to do is say a prayer and praise God you are on your to heaven to Jesus when you die and oh, by the way, in some groups, you are eternally secure/once saved always saved, go live life any old way woud like to do! If we are eternally secure, then why are there so many admonishments from the writers of the New Testament to hold on to the end. Isn’t this one of the major themes of the Book of Revelation?– “Here calls for the patient endurance of the saints.”

    Perhaps the reason why we don’t get it is because we truly and really do not know what the Apostles taught and thus have not truly understood what Jesus taught and what He received from the Father.

    Just my thoughts on it. Paul’s articles and blogs always get me to think and more times than not, step on my toes!

  2. Jon says:

    Thanks for that.

    I may have more questions anon. Particularly about the church.

  3. Jon says:

    Hey Shammah

    It’s been a while (not to say that I haven’t been reading your posts though).

    Maybe you’ve answered this before, I apologize if I’m repeating myself. The post seems to beg the following question – How much obedience does one need in order to be saved? Also, how does one know one is being obedient enough to be saved?

    Also (in anticipation of you getting out 1 Peter 1:17) what do you think about this question: Could you honestly love someone who had a gun to your head saying ‘Love me or I’ll pull the trigger’?.

    These are honest questions – in no way am I trying to trip you up.

    Enjoying you’re thoughts as always.

    Jon

    • Shammah says:

      Ah, this is one more place where the lack of scriptural churches really hurts us. We have replaced the family of God, brothers and sisters united in a common life, with organizations that one “attends” and “goes to.”

      The church is the kingdom of God on earth. The fact that you have been welcomed into it, want to stay in it, and have not been put out of it, is evidence that you have been received by God. In the church we can have a real experience of commitment, mercy, and warning. Our brothers and sisters are there to be real examples of the fact that God’s mercies are new every morning and that *when we walk in the light*, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from every sin. They are also there, guided by God, to warn us when our lives have gone beyond weakness, and to remind of the fact that God is not mocked, and if we live according to the flesh we will die.

      It is hard to live a godly life alone. We are supposed to be living it with the example and support of our family, the church, on a daily or near daily basis. The church is supposed to be our community and our support.

      1 Peter 1:17 is one aspect of assurance, warning us that a “no matter what” assurance is not possible. We are to walk in fear of the judgment. That’s what it says. On the other hand, we can also really experience the Holy Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we’re the children of God. We can experience fellowship and walking in the light and the cleansing of our conscience by God. Those are real experiences, and they bring assurance that we are right now today in fellowship with God, having the right to boldly approach the throne of grace and find both mercy and grace.

      As for the idea that God has a gun to our head saying, “Love me or I’ll pull the trigger,” I think there’s something terribly wrong with that picture, at least for Christians. There’s a broad path that leads to destruction, and there’s a narrow path that leads to life. God calls us to take note of him and walk on that narrow path, which does involve denying ourselves and turning away from the things the world longs after. In return, he offers the opportunity to live forever.

      On that path, we should see the Holy Spirit as our power and our guide, God as our loving, heavenly Father who sustains and blesses us by his Spirit, and Jesus as the great Teacher and example who will also live through us to accomplish greater things than we ever dreamed possible in our own strength. The warnings are warnings to those who would choose to live a half-hearted life or to turn away from the Gospel. For those who choose to stand in grace, Paul says, “He has reconciled you in the body of his flesh through death to present you holy, blameless, and irreproachable in his sight, if you continue in the faith, grounded and settled and are not moved away from the hope of the Gospel.”

      In the end, though, whatever my explanations of the truth, and whether they are good or bad, the fact remains that there are those who practice righteousness and are “righteous as he is righteous,” and there are those who practice sin who are children of the devil. We can wonder about the “line,” but we serve ourselves better by heartily pursuing the one who is abundant in mercy, powerful in grace, and who will devote himself to giving us what we need to achieve the goal of being complete in Christ. Warnings are for the half-hearted, for the days when we are tempted to laziness, and especially for those “Christians” in the modern world who have been assured that a prayer and an acknowledgment of Thomas Aquinas’ version of the atonement will get them to heaven.

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