Over the past 500 years this slogan has become a banner in reformed circles. At the core of the phrase is the belief that we must always be checking our teaching not with the traditions of man but with the heart of the Scriptures themselves. Our churches cannot become places where tradition is King but where God is King and the instructions of His Word guide us.
This weekend I had the privilege to preach Mark 7:1-23 where Jesus deals with the very real danger that we have to wrestle with when it comes to our faith and the application of tradition. Now it’s important to remember that tradition is not bad when it is grounded in Scripture and points people back to Christ and to His word. The problem that Jesus deals with in Mark is the same problem that Luther dealt with in Wittenberg, namely, that tradition had become the standard by which faith was measured not the Word of God. The Church had ceased to find its heart in the gospel and had begun to demand upon its followers external requirements for faith apart from the grace of Christ alone.
Now, many of us may not believe that this is something that we do any longer. We may believe that we have in no way added to the gospel our own traditions. However when people go on Facebook and say such things like:
‘If you’re a Democrat you can’t be a Christian’
‘If you voted for Trump you can’t be a Christian’
‘If you baptize your child you cannot be a Christian’
‘If you’ve ever had a beer you cannot be a Christian’
‘If you don’t only play hymns and worship you can’t be a Christian’
……or things like this, then you a place external means over the heart of the gospel. You set up for yourself a standard of faith that exists apart from the Word of God and is based solely on your view of what a ‘Christian’ should look like. You have begun to judge the reality of faith on your own traditions which are running contrary to the Word of God.
Now I say this all to point us back to the reality that we all need to check our hearts and motives when it comes to the gospel and its application. The free gift of God given to us through the Spirit that grants us faith is not validated solely on external rituals. If you demand from people religious conformity that is exactly what you will get but in doing so you will also get people devoid of real faith and real righteousness. Their righteousness will not be the fruit of the grace of Christ but rather the fruit of fear of being judged as ‘unclean.’ And this is the furthest thing we would ever want for child of Christ. We need to understand that true righteousness comes from a heart transformed by the power of the gospel. The true test of your fruit is the heart from which it springs no matter how nice it looks on the outside.
So we examine our hearts. We think about the hope we have in Christ and it should lead us to worship and praise His great name and honor Him with our lives and our application of Scripture on others. We should seek to encourage our brothers and sisters to grow in faith and grow in holiness, but our definition of holiness must be fully grounded in Scripture and not in our human traditions. We must encourage our brothers and sisters to cling to the cross of Christ and not to their own forms of self-righteousness. It’s only Christ who saves us in the faith that He has given us, only the Spirit who changes us while living inside us moving us, leading us in the path of righteousness. We will stumble, we will fall, we will fail, when measured against man’s definition of success and righteousness. But as we continually repent and believe and run to Christ, we will stand, we will be redeemed by the blood of Christ alone.
It is this goal and this end the Church must always seek to examine its message and its heart. We must always seek to be reforming our message to the truth of the Scriptures. Our traditions have their place and they have their value but it’s not to be weighed in the quality with the Word of God. Nor should our traditions ever rise to the point of usurping God’s authority neither in our lives nor in the lives of others.
Christ must always be King and through the power of the Holy Spirit His Word must always be our guide.