Through A Stained Glass, Darkly

For now we see through a glass, darkly...
(1 Corinthians 13:12a)

Christmas is a time of celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, when the Word was made flesh. It is also a time when some people take delight in lambasting the traditions that are intertwined with the holiday season. They cite Jeremiah 10:3-4 as "proof" that it is wrong to decorate a tree. They go to great lengths to show that Jesus was not actually born on the 25th of December (as if that comes as a surprise to anyone). In the end, they harbor an attitude much like Ebenezer Scrooge's before the fabled appearance of the three ghosts.

I think this passage from Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome shows the proper attitude we should have towards our Christmas traditions:

Romans 14:5-10
5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.
9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.
10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

For a fact, our celebration of Christmas is far more a matter of tradition than devotion. But traditions are an important part of social life. This sentiment is perfectly expressed in father Tevye's opening soliloquy in the story of "The Fiddler on the Roof":

“Because of our traditions, we have kept our balance for many, many years. ...We have traditions for everything: how to eat, how to sleep, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered, and always wear a little prayer-shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, how did this tradition start? I’ll tell you. I don’t know. But it’s a tradition. And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is, and what God expects him to do.”

Of course, not all traditions are good and proper. The Bible warns us of traditions that try to undermine our faith in the divinity of Christ.

Colossians 2:8-10
8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
9 For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
10 And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:

But this does not mean ALL traditions are bad. Paul instructed the church to hold fast to certain traditions.

2 Thessalonians 2:15
Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

2 Thessalonians 3:6
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.

These passages led me to consider the traditions Paul instituted in the Christian church. One tradition that began with the early church is the practice of holding worship services on the first day of the week (what we now call Sunday) rather than the last day, the Sabbath. This started the tradition of collecting offerings during that service.

1 Corinthians 16:1-2
1 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.
2 Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.

(The man who acknowledges that "God hath prospered him" will not be hesitant to return to God the tithe he requires. The opposite is also true.)

Another tradition that began in the early church is the sacrament of the bread and cup of holy communion:

1 Corinthians 11:23-26
23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.

Such traditions were inspired by the Holy Spirit to maintain order and ensure doctrinal purity. But not all traditions in the church are so. Jesus told the Pharisees that they rejected the commandment of God so they could keep their traditions:

Mark 7:1-9
1 Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem.
2 And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault.
3 For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.
4 And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.
5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?
6 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.
9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

1 Corinthians 13:12 says, "Now we see through a glass, darkly," but I am calling this message "Through A Stained Glass, Darkly." The other morning I woke to a memory of something that happened more than twenty years ago. At the conclusion of a class I was presenting on the gifts of the Spirit, I brought forth a message from the Holy Spirit for each of the participants. As I prophesied over one of the participants, I also saw a vision, a rare thing in my life. The ray of light from God was shining down on this man, but it came through a stained glass window. The light was being refracted by the doctrines of men.

As I Corinthians 13:12 clarifies, there is not a man amongst us who has perfect understanding of God. "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD (in Isaiah 55:8-9). For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." That is why we must never allow the traditions of men to usurp authority over the Word of God.

I call myself a "non-denominational" Christian; I hold myself accountable to God and not a particular governing body. But I am in fact a Protestant. I am pro-testament, pro Word of God. I affirm that the Bible alone must be the foundation for all Christian teaching (a position known as sola scriptura). I reject the precepts of Roman Catholicism that affirm there are two sources of divine revelation: the Scriptures AND church tradition set forth by their magistrates, bishops, and ultimately, their Pope.

1 Timothy 2:5 says, "There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." Therefore I do not believe I need to seek the additional intercession of Mary or certain canonized saints. The Bible teaches that by the sacrament of holy communion "ye do shew the Lord's death till he come" – not his living presence. When Jesus said, "Take, eat: this is my body," he was not suggesting that he was "really, truly, and substantially present in the Holy Eucharist" (as is held in Roman Catholic doctrine) anymore than he is "really, truly, and substantially present" in the door to the church because in John 10:9 he said, "I am the door."

Paul established New Testament traditions to help us hold fast to our faith. But as he wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:16, "But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God." Godly traditions are customs; useful but in no way the foundation of our faith. But the traditions of men lead followers away from truth and into a very dark path. No man understood the dangers of blindly following tradition more than Paul:

Galatians 1:13-14
13 For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:
14 And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.

Some traditions we are to keep; others we should reject. In the end, our sole allegience should be to the one who redeemed us, the lamb without blemish or spot.

1 Peter 1:18-19
18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;
19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:


Presented 30 December 2018 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana