Humans are a people of customs, some small like allowing a lady to go first through a door and others more dramatic like the ones from the natives of New Guinea. At certain times they have rituals, songs, and dances. They work themselves up into a frenzy and the ritual culminates in what are called “the murder songs,” in which they shout before their God the names of the people they wish to kill.
In the church, we also have customs and rituals that we abide by. On Ash Wednesday, for instance, many churches place a cross of ashes upon the heads of people to remind us of our fallen nature and our need for a Savior. At Christmas we place a manger in front of the alter to remind us of a promise kept in the sending of the Christ Child, and at Easter we sing our Alleluia’s for all the Lord has done to win for us our salvation.
Many customs are good because they serve as reminders of how blessed we are to be children of God. But others can hinder us by taking on a life of their own. Colossians 2:8 serves as a warning when it says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”
When customs go from reminders to man-made theology apart from the guidance of God’s word, our fallen nature plays a part. Martin Luther dealt with this in his battles with the Catholic church in the selling of indulgences.
Indulgences were something you could buy from the church to release a loved one’s soul from purgatory (another man-made theology). It even had its own tag line, “As soon as the gold in the casket rings, the rescued soul to heaven springs.”
Martin noticed that this practice had become customary and expected, the church taking advantage of the fatalistic nature of the people it served. If the church said this was true, then the people would have to fall in line, even if it meant spending money that would be used for food.
This custom was one of the major reasons for the reformation. The church had become too big, its Popes had become corrupt with power and they were making up their own rules and customs to serve themselves rather than God.
Eventually many false customs are brought to light as they were with Martin Luther. By the power of the Holy Spirit, those customs which serve God remain and many of the ones that don’t are eliminated or changed. We travel back to New Guinea.
As Christianity grew in New Guinea, the custom like the one presented at the beginning of our story (which they had done for over 500 years) would change. When the natives became Christian, they retained these customs and that ritual, However, in the murder songs, they no longer shouted the names of the people they hated, but the names of the sins they hated, and called on God to destroy them. A pagan custom had been captured for Christ. (Source unknown).
God did not give us many customs to follow because He wanted us to focus instead on those things which would bring us eternal life. Revelation 14:12 tells us, “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.”
Every custom we follow should remind us of God’s work in our lives and of His unending guidance. Every tradition should have an element of faith from which we can draw our strength. Every ritual should be based on the Word of God and not the word of man.
From Romans 12:1-2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The only customs God desires are those that draw us closer to Him so, hold as your custom an attitude of faith. Follow His guidance and take hold of His grace. Take advantage of His forgiveness and present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. These are the only things he looks for us to make customary in our lives. Are you willing? Please pray with me:
Heavenly Father, forgive us for holding customs in our lives that separate us from You and help us to put in place the things that will draw us closer. Amen.