Buildings? Traditions? Why or Why Not?
July 29, 1998
Below is a question from a letter sent by a good brother in another city. His observations are correct, but there is a deeper thought that he hadn’t perhaps taken into account, which you’ll discover as you read on. Hopefully this will be helpful for all of us in sorting out these sensitive matters…
“I know that it’s not buildings or traditions, per se, that are the cause of the unnecessary heartache I see across the religious landscape…rather, it’s a persistence in unbelief and disobedience by God’s people. Yet, I do find great difficulty building relationships with other believers for whom Christianity primarily means ‘attending services.’ This has been especially hard for me to work through, as I tend to be a closed person. How do I work for change in the environment I’m in? Again, the externals themselves aren’t the issue…are they??”
The answer to your question is “no and yes.” The building (with its system of clergy, ritual, programs and the like) is obviously not the REAL issue. Much of it is actually, unbeknownst to many involved, disobedient to the teachings of Paul and Jesus, if done as 99.9% do these things. Still, those “things” are simply an obstacle to Christ-Life. Perhaps they are a symptom of needing security from something external rather than from Jesus Himself. Definitely, at least, they are an unnecessary stumbling block to true Life. But, as you said, the externals are not the real root enemy, per se, of Jesus’ Corporate Life.
However, the unbelief and disobedience, in their many ugly forms that you mentioned, persist (seems like forever) in 7 out of 10 potentially good people because the ENVIRONMENT is unBiblical. Those good people don’t get the strength and encouragement and light and equipping they could get in a Biblical environment (daily devoted Life, instead of “attending” something).
Let me give you an example from everyday life. If you were trying to make a good decision and you had been indulging in alcohol or were “drugged” unknowingly, your decision-making would be crucially, if not fatally, impaired by this outside force. Not that you would be a different, or worse, or more foolish person—but simply an outside force would have impaired your thinking to some extent, large or small. You would NOT function to your full potential in a moment of crisis or complexity. Similarly, if you were trying to drive an automobile while wearing someone else’s thick prescription eyeglasses, you would very likely, sooner or later, wreck your car and perhaps harm yourself and/or others. You are a good driver, but your “situation” has an unnecessary and “unfair” effect on your ability to get the job done. Do you see what I mean? The best intent to do the “right” thing, by the best of people, can be hindered by an inappropriate situation we live in. Externals CAN hinder functionality.
“A little leaven leavens the whole batch. Remove the leaven from the batch…” (1Corinthians 5:6-7) is an example of this.
“Bad company corrupts good character” (1Corinthians 15:33).
“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up among you to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15).
If these Scriptures are true, there can be no escaping the fact that our ENVIRONMENT affects even innocent people that truly mean well. Any environment that builds around meetings and programs and titles and forms, rather than a “neither here nor there” Kingdom that Jesus spoke of, is very likely to disobey the above Scriptures from God. And, according to God Himself, the “whole batch” will suffer for it—just as Achan caused all of spiritual Israel to be beaten down at Ai by the one man’s “leaven.” Any form or system that builds and is defined around “membership” and “attendance” or “tithing” or “knowledge” or “listening to words from a ‘pulpit’” regularly, or any such thing—rather than around deep, known relationship on a daily basis with God and brothers and sisters—will easily and unavoidably welcome “leaven.” And, according to God, such a system will harm everyone in so doing. This “external” has had seriously detrimental spiritual effects on good people. Those seeking God and Life will seldom find all that they need or might have had in Him. Those who are religious, but unconverted—those who Jesus said would fill the “broad road” while calling out His Name on Sunday (Mat. 7)—will not have the opportunity to have all of the Light that they might have had in true relationship with others—to open the opportunity they deserve that they might truly find Him. “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13). “ALL” will be “leavened” and diminished, simply because of what we have built. And, truthfully, this system of building, attendance, sermons, ceremony, programs and the like… cannot be found anywhere in the Bible (that we all call His Word) anyway. It has allowed, by definition, “leaven” to co-exist in the batch. And it must co-exist anywhere where one can “belong” because they “attend regularly”—even though often they are not known in the inner man and daily life by another person in the entire assembly.
You need to know this: building externally different doesn’t solve anything. We see and hear of many “informal” or “house church” situations, meeting in some different environment externally only. Many have “chucked” the formal to no benefit, and are still living in spiritual poverty, legalism, or foolish shallowness. Their “group” is fraught with weakness, or “little man dominance,” or “health food” and home school worship. Is it really that great a deal to exchange pews and ritual for this? I think not.
While being “informal” or at “home” or “spontaneous” rather than the other stuff is not a solution in itself, we really do need to build God’s way rather than through convenience, habit, or culture. Many of the heartaches of the wilderness are needlessly created or needlessly prolonged because of our ways of leaning on or shallowly living in the “traditions of men” that “nullify the Word of God.” So many problems, so little time… and we’ve mostly done it to ourselves by building Ishmaels, instead of looking to God for Isaac. Even your admitted “closed-ness” is a hindrance to your walk with God and to holiness, and it could be different by now. Of course you are responsible, alone. And yes, unbelief and disobedience—lack of relationship with Jesus—are the first level of “source” of those shortcomings. But if you could get help (there are many Biblical passages that insist that we can help one another be closer to Jesus) on a daily basis, you would very likely have overcome this by now, if you really wanted to. And, knowing you, I know you do. Surely most others do, too. Anyway, just food for thought, brother…