“You nullify the word of God by your tradition.” Mark 7:13
What God leads my conscience to do, or not do, is entirely specific to me. The problem comes when I feel that every other child of God should make the same choices. My father in law, the evangelist Jack Wyrtzen, came to Christ out of a culture of dance bands and nightclubs. He was a musician and played in a band. Every time he heard jazz, the sound took him back to the clubs he had left behind for Jesus. To him, jazz was a stumbling block. Jazz however, in and of itself, is a neutral thing. It is just music; an assembly of notes, rhythms, and instrumentation. How many churches have split over the issue of music styles when the real emphasis should be on the Spirit behind the music and whether the people who lead it have been anointed to do it. Talent and style of music are secondary issues.
In Paul’s day, there were similar hot topics. Jesus’ ministry was conducted almost exclusively within the Jewish community. Keeping kosher was an important part of Judaism. But Jesus stretched his fellow Jews out of their comfort zone when he and His disciples ate without washing their hands ceremonially. Jesus even sent His disciples into the town of Sychar (in Samaria) to buy food for lunch. A Jew would never touch food that a Samaritan had prepared. When the Pharisees erupted over Jesus and His group breaking the law, He answered them by attacking their legalism. “You nullify the word of God by your tradition.” Mark 7:13 Then He talked to them about their hearts, that it’s what in the heart that makes a man clean or unclean. But we’ve always tried to make our Christianity about external things; what we do and don’t do.
Having grown up in legalistic circles, there were many rules. Don’t go to the theater because someone seeing you exit won’t know if you saw a PG or an R movie. Don’t order a glass of wine at dinner because someone watching won’t know if you drink excessively in the privacy of your own home. Don’t even play the game of Rook in your own home because someone driving by might see you playing cards and assume they’re real playing cards. Of course, as a teenager and young adult, the only things I wanted to do were the things that were denied. Human nature.
Am I over legalism? Nope. I still fight it. The rules have just changed. I can avoid those circles who are legalistic and want little to do with them. My bias can easily do a 180 degree turn and that’s just as sinful. God is constantly dealing with me about this. He often sends me to legalistic churches to bring the healing message of grace to them. To teach them, I must forgive them. To teach them, I must ask for forgiveness. To be effective, I must love them. And to be effective, I must let God love the sinful Christine. Oh, I’m a work in progress and it’s humbling how far I have to go sometimes. You can pray for me.
Legalism kills. Others killed my faith but I often still do it to others in new and creative ways. Show me. Forgive me. Change me. Amen