Man’s Tradition or God’s Revelation?

By Jeffery Kingry

During World War II in Britain when armaments were becoming scarce and use of manpower was critical, time, and motion studies were made of gun crews in the artillery. It was hoped that the speed of operating; each gun could be increased. In one such study of artillery crews a peculiar act was noted. At a certain point, just before the firing of the gun, two of the men stood at attention for three seconds, then resumed the sequence necessary for the next firing. This was puzzling. The men themselves could not explain it; it was part of the technique they were taught in gunnery school. Neither could the officers nor the instructors explain it. All anyone knew was that the three second standing at attention was a “necessary” part of the process of firing the highly mechanized piece of artillery. One day an old, long retired artillery colonel was .a shown the time and motion studies. He, too, was puzzled at first. Then his face, cleared. “Ali,” he said; when the performance was over. “I have it. The two, men are holding the horses” (Robert Nisbet, The Social. Bond, p. 318)!

Horses, of course, disappeared from the artillery 50 years before World War 1I. We may laugh and say that this is one more example of the idiot inertia of the military but the story is no different except in details of the history of many more “progressive” and “relevant” institutions. We have only to look at the place tradition plays in the Roman Catholic Church and some of the older, more liturgical Protestant denominations to see how habit replaces thought among “religious” people. Once “control” is gained through some kind of institutionalization of behavior, no effort ordinarily will seem too great to protect that form of control. The appeal of habit is its ability to suspend conscious thought. The consequence is that few of us can be said to welcome change because change from tradition, habit, or ritual requires thought and effort.

Christianity Means Change

The dictionary defines conservative as “one who adheres to traditional methods and views, a cautious and discreet person.” In one sense, I wish to be identified with other brethren who are conservative in their view of the all-sufficiency of the Word and the church. When it comes to the teaching of the Bible, “be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace” (Heb. 13:9). When it comes to our faith, “Be ye steadfast, unmoveable” (1 Cor. 15:58). But “conservatism” in religion should not mean stagnant, unmoving, unchanging, dead living and service.

Change and conservatism are often thought to be antonymous — but the only thing that is unmoving and unchanging about Christianity is its incessant call for the revolution of the spirit of man. Jesus was a spiritual revolutionary in the full sense, of the word. His attitudes, methods, and words got Him lynched by the religious hypocrites of His day. He was a militant opposer of that brand of religious complacency that put “the way we have always done it” over true service to God. Whether it was His cleansing of the temple (Jn. 2:13-17), healing on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:10-13), or breaking the Jew’s petty rules and regulations (Matt. 12:1-9), Jesus was an iconoclast of the first order. “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace but a sword . . . he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt: 10:34,38,39). Jesus demanded that men let their old personality — the old man — die. .The cross is not a symbol of suffering, but of death. Jesus is demanding a death to self that a new life in His likeness might have birth. The call of God is to “newness of life.” The Roman letter was addressed first to Christians: “Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3,4). This spirit of change was inculcated in the Lord’s disciples as well. The enemies of Christianity looked in dismay when the evangelist entered town and exclaimed, “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also” (Acts 17:6)!

Individually, the Bible requires a constant introspection and consequent change to conform to the Lord’s perfect example (Eph. 4:13). Many are content to remain with “first principles” in knowledge and action. But one “first principle” they overlook is that God requires all in His family to grow to their full maturity as His children. “By this time you should be teaching other people, but actually you need that someone teach you over and over again the rudimentary principles of the divine revelation. You have become a people who need a diet of milk and cannot face solid food! Everyone who uses milk exclusively is without experience in the Word of truth; he simply has not grown up. But solid food is for full grown men, that is, for those who through constant practice have their spiritual faculties carefully trained to distinguish right from wrong. So then, let us go on and get past the elementary stage in the teaching and doctrine of Christ. Let us pass on to our full growth, and let us stop continually re-laying a foundation of repentance from a lifeless formality, of the faith that turned us to God, of the doctrine of baptism, laying on of hands, of the resurrection, and of eternal punishment. Advance we will, if the Lord wills” (Heb. 5:12-14; 6:1-3, New Testament From 26 Translations). Jesus died that you and I might not have to conform to our own carnal nature or the worldly enticements of this earth. The truth has freed us to follow God and Him alone. “Be not fashioned according to this world, but by your new attitude of mind be ye transformed so that you may prove in your own life what is good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2, Ibid.).

Truth or Tradition?

But going beyond God’s call to a revolution of the spirit, the Lord calls us to sincere and dedicated worship and service. Though our worship is unchanging in substance-in spirit and in truth-the forms are as varied as the cultures which follow God’s pattern. Not only do our methods vary from country to country, but even from North to South in these United States. There is nothing particularly condemnatory or laudatory in one way over another, as long as they are in spirit and truth. Jesus and the Apostle Paul kept certain customs and traditions when they were kept as customs. But Jesus flagrantly and openly broke with custom when it became law for those who found it (Matt. 15:7-9).

Brethren would be hard pressed to give scriptural authority for the shameful way they practice “respect of persons” upon preachers. Is the “employer-employee” relationship found between churches and preachers truth or tradition? Where do we find the divine pattern for control of the evangelist’s movements and work by the local church? What management does the church have over the preacher that it does not scripturally have over any other member in the church? That preachers agree and submit to such regulation is not an argument of right or wrong but of tradition. Why is it that the church only exercises her traditional “control” on the “local” preacher, but not on any of the other men she may support in other places?

Why is it that the Bible tells us that the “elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor (reckoned worthy of a double stipend-jwk) especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the scripture with, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn, and, The laborer is worthy of his hire” (1 Tim. 5:17,18). In how many churches are the elders, even one elder, counted `worthy of his hire”?. 1 have heard from men of experience for years that most problems in churches are a result of “do-nothing-elders.” An eldership that does naught but choose preachers and decide where to spend the treasury does not need or deserve financial support. The fact that God envisioned the eldership as a work that needed financial support gives us an insight into the quality and the quantity of the work of the eldeis.’Why are our elders not supported out of the treasury? Manifestly the brethren do not see that the work being done is deserving of support. Many elderships are ignorant as to what “feeding the flock among you” consists of! Is our concept of the work of the eldership truth or tradition?

What about our views on “personal work”? That the New Testament evangelist taught and converted people., no one will dare deny. But the growth of the New Testament church was not in the work of one man or several men, but in the work of the church: “at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were scattered abroad . . . therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:1-4). How many churches “die, on the vine” ; because they are. without a. “minister”? These churches feel that if they could just raise some money and entice a preacher to come “work for us” everything will be alright. Anything a preacher can do in a community to preach the Gospel, the church can do, and do it more fruitfully in direct proportion to the number of brethren who are preaching the word. A preacher might do a better and more efficient job, and spend more time at it, but by himself he will never accomplish as much as a dedicated, zealous, working church can. Is our concept of personal work truth or tradition?

The examples could be drawn out endlessly, but the thesis of this article has been supported. Just as tradition produced “eyes that will not see, ears that will not hear, and “hearts waxed gross” even today much of what we do is lost in ineffectuality just because we have permitted habit to suspend conscious thought. Change for change’s sake is senseless, but refusal to change for fear of losing vain tradition is even more senseless.

Truth Magazine XXII: 22, pp. 362-363
June 1, 1978