What about the ordinances? There are 2 ordinances or traditions that Christ himself ordained for us to observe. One is the Lord’s Supper and the other is baptism. Catholics observe the Lord’s Supper every Sunday and many Protestants look at that and say, that’s just a meaningless ritual. So why bother observing it? Attending church on Sundays can become a ritual at times when our hearts are far from God, but does that mean we should stop coming to worship service? Of course not. There are things we decide to do consistently even if there is a danger of it becoming a ritual at times. There are things we obey even when we don’t feel like it because God commands it. Keeping the Sabbath holy and observing the Lord’s Supper fall into this category.
For example, if we said, as a church, we will only show compassion when we felt compassionate, we might never do anything. If we wait in our prayer closet to be zapped with a compassionate heart, we might never step out of our rooms. But if we say, I am going to commit to exercising some compassion this week, it’s likely that our actions will cause us to become more compassionate as we witness firsthand the brokenness in this world. We obey even when we don’t feel like obeying or when our hearts are not in it. And because we decided to obey first, what happens? Our heart often changes after the fact because of our actions.
So the Lord’s Supper, this is an important enough tradition that Jesus commands us to do it in remembrance of what he did for us on the cross. How often, in what ways, these are up for debate, but regardless, we have to obey it.
Second, there is the tradition or ordinance of baptism. As Baptists, we not only think getting baptized is important, but we believe when you are baptized and how you are baptized are also important. When should one get baptized? You should get baptized when you are old enough to know what you are doing and you make a conscious decision to repent of your sin and place your faith in Christ. We don’t believe in paedo baptism, or infant baptism. We don’t believe you are born a Christian. We don’t believe you are always a Christian because your parents took you to church from a young age. There is a point when you decide to follow Christ. In addition, we think the how one gets baptized, or the mode of baptism is important. We don’t do sprinkle baptisms here. We do full body immersions because we feel like this mode of baptism best represents the spiritual death of our old selves and being raised with Christ in the newness of life.
Outside of these 2 ordinances, the rest of the traditions are fluid and flexible and so we have to apply a higher principle. The things we do at our church that might be unique to us because of our background and our experiences and different from those attending FBC here in the morning or the church down the street, how do we evaluate if these are helpful or harmful? I think we can ask a couple of simple questions. Just like the ceremonial laws was a shadow pointing to the reality of Christ, the traditions and rules and practices here at the Hill, do they help each of us draw closer to Christ? Or, if certain traditions like we talked about last Sunday help us to serve our neighbors better and allow us to be more compassionate, if we can say yes to either of those questions, then I believe the tradition is worth keeping, but we can reassess every few months or every year because what works this year for this particular group of people may no longer work next year when a different group of people walks through the doors.
Here’s the dark side of tradition. Tradition can sometimes cloud, or worse, distort what God actually intended for His people. Back to v4 – God’s commandment is clear–honor your father and mother. How did the Pharisees introduce their own tradition and distort the intention of God’s command? v5-6–
5 But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ 6 he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.
It’s unclear from these verses alone what Jesus meant. But Mark 7:9-13 sheds some light. Same account from a different gospel writer. Mark elaborates a bit more and uses the term, Corban. Corban was a label which priests could place on the temple treasury so that this money was hands off. It was sacred and therefore off limits for secular purposes–city building projects, for example.
And the Pharisees took this idea of Corban and used it for their personal finances and said, my money, it’s Corban. It’s off limits. Jesus knew their hearts and he was making the connection that these Pharisees hoarded money for themselves while their elderly parents who needed financial assistance were uncared for. It’s unloving. How on earth could they honor their father and mother and not help them financially when they had the means to help? If they were poor and they couldn’t help their parents financially, that’s another story. But they had money and they hoarded it. Yet with this kind of heart, they had the nerve to criticize Jesus’ disciples for not washing their hands before eating.
Do you see the picture? This is dead religion at its worst. What was the purpose of the traditions established by the Pharisees? Was it to draw closer to God? Was it to better serve their neighbors? It’s unfortunate that they made rules and invented traditions ultimately for selfish reasons. In this case, to get themselves off the hook of responsibility to care for parents in financial need.
Jesus must have been slightly miffed, a bit riled up at this point because he begins preaching. If Jesus spontaneously busts out into a sermon, you know something is up.
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’” 12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” 13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”
Jesus continues to preach in v17–
17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’”
Jesus explains his main beef with religion. Religion is an “Outside In” approach. Wash your hands before eating. Fast twice a week. Pray at the temple. Buffet your body. Be disciplined. And through these external practices, you honor God.
Christianity is “Inside Out.” Change the heart of a man, change the inside first, and his outsides, his behavior, his speech, his lifestyle will also change. Outside in vs. inside out. This is really important to understand.
Religion says, you are basically a good person. You are clean. What makes you unclean is the dirt and filth out there. Christianity says, it’s not the filth out there that makes you unclean, but it’s the filth that resides within and emanates from your own heart that makes you unclean.
If the problem was external, then it’s within our power to fix it. In college, I thought I could regulate change. The world was a sinful place. And I had to be pure. So I got rid of my TV, I hardly watched movies. No video games. There was no smartphones back then and internet wasn’t big yet, which is hard to believe. I’m dating myself a bit. In college, many of my peers and I for the first time learned what email was. If I applied the same mindset today, I would have canceled my home internet connection, given away my computer and deactivated my facebook account. No blogs. No social media. No music or video streaming.
We do have to monitor our consumption of these things, but I failed to see that the problem ran much deeper than my environment. If the problem is surface level, then fixing the environment is sufficient. Or I just need to move and live in a developing country where I do not have to face these temptations. Is that the solution? Change circumstances and you are cured of everything? I don’t think so.
If you have a dirty house, you can clean it up. It might be hard work, like cleaning behind the refrigerator or under the coach, but it’s physically possible and within your means to do it. If you have a problem with your physical heart, again, you can call up my brother, who is a cardiologist and he can do surgery and insert some tubes and clean out the gunk. Physical problem, physical solution. But if the problem is not our physical heart, but it’s deeper, it’s our spiritual heart, it’s the core of our very being, then the problem is far beyond our reach.
And there’s the rub. Religion cannot solve our deepest issues and so no matter how hard we try, religious people, even religious leaders are still left with spiritually dead hearts.
19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.
Jesus deals with our hearts. He cleanses our spiritual hearts first. He gives us a new heart. And because we have new hearts, the outside begins to change. Inside out change. It begins with being born again. What does that look like? We see an example of a born again Gentile in v21-28. The story of the Canaanite woman.