Walls of Tradition
by Don Watson
We’ve all got them. Walls of tradition, I mean. And they’re made up of foundation stones, bricks, and sometimes mortar. And those stones and bricks are all the doctrines, philosophies, beliefs and practices that are important to us. They are the beliefs and doctrines that define who we think God is or isn’t, and how He operates or doesn’t. They probably reveal who we think we are as well, and what our relationship with all the beings in this universe looks like. The presence of mortar or lack of it probably reveals how set we are in those beliefs or how open we might be to change them.
Like I said, we all have our list, our wall. However, we like to think that this wall of stones, bricks, and mortar isn’t our wall at all – it’s God’s wall (Or some superior standard of wisdom and morality). And these things aren’t so much traditions as they are principles from God’s Word. We have a tendency to think that if it’s a tradition, it isn’t from God, but human in origin. Few of us feel that our wall is just “our wall.” We believe the bricks and stones came from God’s rock pile – not ours. But isn’t it true that this wall of beliefs, doctrines, and practices is our human perception of what God wants us to believe or do? That someone else can read the exact same words and come up with a belief that is opposite ours? I don’t mean to imply that anyone’s relationship with God and His Holy Spirit is faulty, but isn’t it true that sincere, Godly people from many different churches and denominations have gone to God’s rock pile, asking, even begging, the Holy Spirit to show them the “right” rocks and stones (And I’ve found the same thing to be true of people in the fields of science, philosophy or non-religion) yet no one’s wall is exactly the same. It just seems that regardless of the sincerity or intelligence of great scholars or great men and women of God, there is still a human element to these walls of ours? They are still our human perception of what life is about, our human perception of what God wants us to understand about Him?
So for the sake of our discussion, could we simply understand “tradition” to be any belief or practice any of us have, whether it came from God’s Word, a philosophy book, Mom or Dad, or the Mail Man. It is our wall, our house; it is the structure of our mind. It is personal, but it can be corporate as well. It can be the wall of beliefs and practices of your business, your church, your denomination, your Kiwanis, your neighborhood owner’s association, or your family. It is not bad, it is not good, it just is what it is – your wall, your tradition. It is what you believe.
Now, since none of us are going to agree on everything, it only makes sense that we address the mortar thing first. A lot of people in the past have been less than tolerant in accepting the beliefs of others. We Christians are certainly no exception. We may not burn dissidents at the stake any longer but we still are not known as reflecting the unconditional love and acceptance of Jesus, our founder. Even though it boasts of being open minded, science has had its moments of intolerance and persecution as well – not only in the past but it still struggles with the idea of “academic freedom.” (See Ben Stein’s documentary, Expelled.) For Christians I would remind us that the religious people of Jesus had a doctrine of what the role the Messiah would be when He arrived, but it did not match with God’s doctrine of the Messiah. These were God’s “Remnant,” “Chosen” people. They were not rejected as a nation because their doctrine was wrong or their wall was imperfect. They were rejected because that brick, that stone, in their wall was mortared, cemented, and immovable. They compared everybody to their wall of tradition. If your wall didn’t match their wall, you were rejected. So Jesus comes along – God comes along – and offers to replace their brick with His. The Holy Spirit over and over speaks to their hearts, convincing them that every miracle of Jesus was from God, every word that He spoke was from God. But it didn’t look like the brick they had in their wall. So they rejected God’s Messiah, because it didn’t look like their Messiah. In fact, even when Jesus cast out demons to declare His divinity, they decided that He was casting them out by the devil. What more was left for God to do? If every time the Holy Spirit comes to us and tries to get us to exchange God’s brick for ours, God’s Messiah for our Messiah, and we claim it’s the devil instead of God, what avenue does God have left to reach us and bring us to repentance? That’s what Jesus called the unpardonable sin. When the Holy Spirit seeks to change us by His miracle working power and we reject Him and say it’s the devil, we grieve Him and are in deep danger of committing the unpardonable sin. Our only safe course, more important than being right is to be OPEN. TEACHABLE. With all innocence and assurance we can choose our stones and bricks and never worry if God will condemn us for a wrong brick. But if we set them in mortar – regardless how convinced we are that we are right – so they cannot be moved, we expose ourselves to the danger of rejecting the Holy Spirit. I am not speaking here of being “blown back and forth by every wind of doctrine.” (Ephesians 4:14) We should never be afraid of taking a stand on our doctrines, beliefs, or practices, but our declaration should always be: “Based on what I believe the Holy Spirit has revealed to me in God’s Word, this is my present position, but because I am human I will never set this or any other doctrine beyond the reach of the Holy Spirit to alter it, improve it, obliterate it, or continue to affirm it, as He sees fit.”
Our security is not in our church theologians (even though we should listen to their wisdom), it is not in our great intelligence or great scholarship (even though our diligence to “rightly divide the Word of Truth” should be beyond reproach), but in a real, personal, intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit – who will “Guide us into all truth. This affirmation and security will not result in force, manipulation, pressure, or coercion of others to comply with “our Brick.” There will be evidence of “no mortar” but we will allow every brick to rest in its place in the calm assurance that the Holy Spirit will keep it (Via the Holy Scriptures – The Word, Jesus) safely there or He will move it as He sees fit. It is our job to trust Him. He can protect the Body of Christ. If the Holy Spirit does not want a particular doctrine to be added to the wall or take the place of one already there, it will come to nothing – He will make sure of that. But if we oppose it and it is something important to God we need to be careful that we do not put ourselves against God Himself.
Lastly, Isaiah 28:16 gives us some good advice about building a wall: “So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic.” Mark tells us this stone is Jesus. “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” (Mark 12:10) In fact 7 times the 4 gospels refer to Jesus as this Foundational Cornerstone that the nation of Israel rejected. Now the nation of Israel would have violently disagreed that they had no doctrine of the Messiah. That was one of the largest bricks in their wall – A Messiah who would come and deliver them from their oppressors was foundational to their doctrine. But because they weren’t pursuing an intimate relationship with God – they didn’t recognize Jesus as THE Cornerstone to God’s entire Kingdom. Please understand, folks, we’re not talking about the teachings of Jesus or about Jesus, but embracing HIM – like the sick did, like the sinners did. Only if Jesus Himself – our crucified Lord and Savior – is the Cornerstone of our wall, will we realize that so many of our bricks are crumbling, lifeless stones.
A Cornerstone is used by the builders to check every other stone. Notice the message God gave to Amos: “And the LORD asked me, “What do you see, Amos?” “A plumb line,” I replied. Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel” (Amos 7:8) Jesus is not only the Cornerstone, but He is also the Plumb line. Go to the Gospel, the good news about who He is – His love acceptance and forgiveness, His hatred of sin because of how it hurts us. See the hurt in the people around you – not their wickedness. Jesus never blamed or condemned hurting sinners, He held out to them His acceptance and power in their lives so sin would not continue to hurt them. That’s why the sinners flocked around Him. Do our doctrines, beliefs, and standards, always reflect God’s love, acceptance, and forgiveness for those around us or condemnation, exclusion, and Judgmentalism? Beg the Holy Spirit to stretch the plumb line of Jesus and His unconditional love to test every brick in our wall. Get rid of every other cornerstone. Do not judge any brick by your business, your government, your church, your denomination or your ideas. Judge it by Jesus and Jesus alone. Do not be one of the builders that rejected the cornerstone in the gospel story. Lay every brick out on the table to be smashed, improved or replaced by the One who aligns you and every cherished belief with the only true Cornerstone, Jesus. If He is not your intimate, daily, personal friend, it is impossible for Him to be your Plumb line or Cornerstone. A wall can separate and divide. But a relationship with Jesus can make your wall something that protects and includes.