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5 traditions that shackle church leaders: reactionary methodology


Scripture provides a good bit of guidance regarding tradition, or traditions. The Apostle Paul spoke highly of the Corinthians because they maintained the traditions he had delivered to them

(1 Corinthians 11:2). When he wrote a second letter to the church at Thessaloniki he advised them to "...stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us" (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Evidently there's nothing inadvisable or acutely wrong with strong apostolic traditions. Just the same, we must remember how Jesus himself dealt harshly with those who observed traditions of men, those rituals and practices that were human additions to the Jewish law and became human measures of piety or righeousness. In that regard Paul warned the Colossian church, "See to it no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition..." (Colossians 2:8). It's a distinction then, those tradiitions validated by the direct influence of Jesus or the Apostles, as opposed to those established by men.

We have those as well, human traditions that become so normative for the local church they shackle those who lead. One of those is what I would like to call reactionary methodology. This is the church tradition that defines mission and ministry methodolgy by what others are doing. Essentially, this is tradition where church gate-keepers adopt ministry plans based on things that will differentiate them from other spiritual influences in the community. This tradition isn't usually written in a policy and procedures manual or a church covenant . But, it is a tradition that smothers creativity and over-shadows the spiritual elements of establishing and pursuing mission.

Don't laugh. We Baptists are great reactionaries! In the Reformation of the sixteenth century many strong traditions of the church were abandoned by the Baptists, more than some of the other reformation era sub-goups, because our early founders didn't want to do anything that appeared Catholic. Another great example of our tradition of reactionary methodology involved the settlement of the west. The Methodists were out front in this movement, but the Baptists were there too. In the towns and villages of the wild west there were two social networks---the saloon, and the social hall. At the saloon, they drank, smoked, spit, danced, played cards, and hung out with painted women. So, in the social hall, just to make sure no one thought the Baptists were saloon types, they didn't drink, smoke, spit, dance, play cards, or even welcome painted women. Ask the average person on the street what Bapist means today and he'll most like say Baptists don't drink, smoke, spit, dance play cards, or hang out with floosies. Heavy on human tradition methodology, light on the spiritual.

A congregational leader recently told me they weren't having those drums in the church because they didn't want anybody to think they were one of those un-godly rock and roll churches that just went in for the entertainment. I heard about a church whose leaders shut down a very effective food and clothes closet becuase they didn't want anybody to think they were a social service agency. A pastor said he wanted to allow a local community home owners association to use their fellowship hall for monthly meetings. One of the church deacons squashed the idea because he said they had to separate church and state. What in the world is that?

Every year, but more often in political election seasons, some of the church voices start warning about the Johnson Amendment. This is the 1954 tax code addition that prohibits tax exempt organizations like the church from endorsing political candidates. As far as I know there has never been a case where the Johnson Amendment has been used judicially against a church. However, the tradition of reactionay methodology has silenced many church leaders under the threat that a case will be tried and prosecuted against those who violate the tax code. Even strong conservative Christian leaders use this tradition to strike fear in local church leadership. Maybe a study of Daniel would help, or Jesus and his critiques of Roman government, or Paul and his defense before Roman governors. It's a reactionary move that has silenced teh church's political influence.

Then there's Westboro Baptist Church. They protest vigorously against just about everything with pickets, nasty signage, and verbal abuse. Their methods are distasteful to just about every other main-line denomination or Christian group, including most Baptists. But, their stances on the issues aren't usually too odd. They just present their opposition in obnoxious ways. Still, there have been hundreds of local congregations who dropped out of the abortion or marriage debates because their leaders didn't want people to think they were affiliated with Westboro.

Our methodology shouldn't be reationary. No, disciples of Jesus should have learned pro-active mission and minsitry by now. We shouldn't be at the table of social discourse because others are there or not, or because we're fearful of being aligned with someone distasteful. Our methods and influence shoud be reflections of him---you know, the one who is the head of the body, even Jesus Christ the Lord. We shouldn't be the last ones at the table or the picket line or the abortion clinic or the Supreme Court. We should be first. We should be there because he would be there. What is more, our church leaders should be unleashed to minister and serve in the context of our location under the pretext of serving him.

What a blessing to see our recent emphasis on racial reconciliation. My fear is that all of the press, meetings, conferences, articles, and teaching is reationary. Southern Baptist, because of our own historical markers, should have been first in dealing with this historical injustice. I do pray that our recent voice is genuine and not merely a reation to the politically correct forces that dominate the times. Being politically correct is reactionary methodology no matter the issue. If it becomes our mission strategy, then the anti-Christian mood of the country will escalate.

Paul wrote to the Colossians a word about what we do and why. There are many such instructions in his letters and I have chosen this one as an example. He wrote, Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ" (Colossians 3:23-24). Being in the world but not of it should guide his people to a mission and ministry strategy that is Spirit motivated and not a reation to what is happening in the world.

Reactionary methodology inhibits the spiritual direction of Christ's church. It shackles the leaders he has appointed to guide his church.

As Jesus said to the risen Lazarus, "Unbind him and let him go" (John 11:44).


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