Summary: Whatever we do, we must not let our traditions steal our joy or our love. We must not let “church business” keep us from “the business of the church.”
A few years ago, I came across some odd laws from a long time ago that were still on the books in the 21st Century. I think you’ll find them quite amusing.
For example, young girls are never allowed to walk a tightrope in Wheeler, Mississippi, unless it's in a church.
In Blackwater, Kentucky, tickling a woman under her chin with a feather duster while she's in a church service carries a penalty of $10.00 and one day in jail.
No one can eat unshelled, roasted peanuts while attending church in Idanha, Oregon.
In Honey Creek, Iowa, no one is permitted to carry a slingshot to church except a policeman.
No citizen in Leecreek, Arkansas, is allowed to attend church in any red-colored garment.
Swinging a yo-yo in church or anywhere in public on the Sabbath is prohibited in Studley, Virginia.
Turtle races are not permitted within 100 yards of a local church at any time in Slaughter, Louisiana. (Robert W. Pelton in The Door, Christian Reader, Vol. 33, no. 5)
We laugh at these laws today, but I’m sure there was a good reason for each of them when they were originally passed. They probably seemed very important to the people back then, especially to people in church, because all of them relate to behavior in and around the church.
It makes me wonder, “What are we doing in the church today, that seems so important to us, but can quickly become just as silly and quaint tomorrow?” I love a lot of our traditions; but if we’re not careful, we can hang onto those traditions long after they serve any useful purpose. In fact, some of those traditions can actually get in the way of doing the very thing God has called us to do as a church.
So how do we evaluate what we’re doing to make sure we remain relevant, on task, and in line with what God wants us to do? Well, if you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Mark 2, Mark 2, where Jesus deals with the problem of a couple of good traditions getting in the way of relevant ministry.
Mark 2:18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” (NIV)
Jesus and His disciples were feasting with tax collectors and sinners, not fasting as the religious establishment thought they should do. You see, it was one of their traditions. The Old Testament prescribed fasting for all Jews only on the annual Day of Atonement, as an act of repentance (Leviticus 16:29). But the Pharisees promoted voluntary fasts on every Monday and Thursday (Luke 18:12) as an act of piety. It’s how they defined spirituality, and Jesus was not living up to their definition.
Mark 2:19-20 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. (NIV)
You see, fasting is an act of sorrow in the Bible. It’s an expression of extreme sadness, not of extreme spirituality. So it doesn’t make sense for Jesus’ disciples to fast when Jesus is right there with them. That’s an occasion for celebration, not for mourning! It would be like wearing funeral clothes to a wedding.
Fasting is totally inappropriate when you want to celebrate and praise the Lord, but there is coming a time when it will be appropriate for Jesus’ disciples to fast. Jesus will one day leave them, and then they will mourn. Then they will fast as an expression of their sorrow, and then it will be totally appropriate. You see, we fast when we’re sorry, not when we’re happy.
The religious leaders didn’t like it that Jesus and his disciples were having such a good time. They wanted to steal their joy by imposing a religious tradition that was totally inappropriate at the time, and many religious leaders want to do that today. They want to impose traditions that are a burden. They want to impose traditions that weigh God’s people down. Please, don’t let anyone do that to you.
DON’T LET ANY TRADITION STEAL YOUR JOY.
Don’t let any religious practice keep you from praising God with your whole heart. Don’t let any so-called “spiritual discipline” spoil or ruin those times of celebration.
It’s not that “spiritual disciplines” are always wrong. It’s just that they are not always right (or appropriate). The fact is they can sometimes be ruinous to a person’s spiritual life if they are not appropriately applied. Look at what Jesus said.