Part One: THE WAY IT IS
“That’s just the way it is!”
Mom is teaching her child how to properly set the table.
“Mommy, why do the knives and spoons go on this side of the plate, and the forks go on that side?”
Mom has no idea why the utensils are customarily arranged in this manner. “That’s just the way it is!” she replies with a smattering of frustration.
Why are traffic lights red, yellow and green? Why do guys wear ties and women high heels? Why is Christmas on December 25th? Why is the hot water on the left and the cold on the right?
Some things don’t have answers. That’s just the way it is!
The way it is is sacred. Turkey at Christmas, ham on Easter. Brides in white. Red roses express love. Dad at the head of the table.
Tradition. Traditions of men. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. Always reverenced.
Traditions in the church. Though usually unreasonable, always reverenced. Traditions…. “That’s just the way it is!”
Throughout church history That’s just the way it is! has always shared lordship with the Bible. To challenge the way it is is to step out of the approval, and even acceptance, of most.
The way it is often positions itself above the Word and will and dictates of God. One would think such rebellion would gather few followers, but the opposite is true: the army of advocates is large and powerful.
Please note: In this book That’s just the way it is! or simply the way it is are in reference to traditions contrary to God’s word, and will be accentuated in italicized print.
The way it is can refer to a singular non-biblical tradition or a complex system of doing things. Traditions of men…. alternatives to God’s Word and God’s Spirit, another way. God says one thing, tradition another.
That’s just the way it is! is sand and he who builds on it is a foolish man. The way it is brings bad stuff into our lives, hampers our usefulness, causes loss of eternal rewards. Yet christians can be territorial and will defend their ground whether that ground be rock or sand. Oh, how we love our traditions!
Jesus confronted That’s just the way it is! and He was crucified. Paul opposed the way it is and the religious hounded him. Martin Luther challenged sacred traditions and he had to keep moving to stay alive. Other reformers were martyred. In our gentler age gentler weapons of exclusion and defamation and derision are used against “all who…. live godly in Christ Jesus,” (2Tm.3:12)those refusing to bow to another word.
“The scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem” confronted Jesus (Mk.7:1-5) demanding to know why Jesus’ disciples did not do the ceremonial washing of hands before they ate. “Why,” they asked, “do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?” No, not the decree of God, but the tradition of the elders.
In the minds of these scribes and pharisees the elders, being elders, had the right to create and impose rules. Did they not know that there is “one Lawgiver”? (Jm.4:12) The way it is was being challenged and these paid protectors were coming to its defence.
Jesus is omniscient God. The pharisees hadn’t yet learned you can’t debate with Jesus and win, but they would learn. “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?” (Mt.15:3) And what tradition was Jesus referring to? The pharisees taught the people that if they gave the money it would cost them to care for their aging parents as “a gift to God” they would be exempt from that responsibility. Undoubtedly, much of the money given as “a gift to God” found its way into the pockets of these defenders of That’s just the way it is!. God said, “Honor your father and your mother”. Men said, “No, you don’t have to. Instead give the money to us.”
The basis (object, purpose) of this tradition is the same as today’s many traditional (unscriptural) teachings…. money and control. Man loves money and man loves control.
This was not an infrequent case of replacing God’s word with a traditional word. Jesus said, “And many other such things you do.” (Mk.7:8) Substitution was a common practice, implanted for the benefit of the few who held the power.
The way things were was once the way it is, held close to man’s heart. Man has always loved his traditions. Oh, the reverence men of every age have given to the way it is. It is familiarity and comfort. It is stability and security. It is lord.
We evangelicals would scoff at the idea of embracing some of the old, faded traditions of our forefathers or traditions of other persuasions. It is not the way it was that we adulate, nor the way it is to others, but the way it is in our camp.
Their ways are silly; our ways are sacred. It is only because our ways are true that we have embraced them. Or so we think. If things were not the way they should be we would not be doing them. Or so we assume. Our ways are scriptural…. aren’t they?
It is difficult to realize that the curious traditions of others are held in a regard equal to our own. And it is offensive to consider that our own are equally silly from their point of view.
It would be a mistake to assume all perspectives are faulty for there is a perspective that is right, true, and sacred and that, of course, is God’s perspective. God’s perspective is revealed to us through His Word, the Bible. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”. (2Tm.3:16)
Building on God’s perspective is building on the rock of His Word. Unfortunately the church has always been guilty of neglecting some teachings of the Bible, replacing them with others. The perils of this folly are considerable.
Let us go back to the incident where Jesus is confronting the religious leadership of that day. Let us focus on the bystanders. For them the confrontation creates a dilemma. Who should they believe, this newcomer or their familiar elders, loyal defenders of That’s just the way it is!?
These people are sheep, simple sheep, dependent sheep. Rarely have they had to make a decision pertaining to their religious heritage. Had their shepherds been more than hirelings, they would be healthy sheep, lovers of God. Had they been taught truth, they would have embraced truth with all its benefits. Whatever diet they were offered they would devour. Sadly, they were fed distortions that deformed their hearts.
On one side of the controversy was Jesus. They would not have listened to Jesus were it not for all those miracles, all those healings, the signs and wonders. There was something different about this Jesus, unlike anyone they had ever encountered. They didn’t know He was Immanuel, “God-With-Us”; they just knew He was like none other. No fear. Clear eyes. Strong. Regal. “No man ever spoke like this man!” (Jn.7:46)
On the other side of the argument were the scribes and pharisees, the hub of the community wheel toward which the populace focused…. the decision makers, the law enforcers, authority on all matters. Articulate in dress and manner, they were the esteemed teachers and themselves merely pupils. And the pharisees had much power. One did not mess with these spiritual leaders; there were consequences.
Jesus often called them hypocrites. “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Mk.7:6,7) Hypocrites? These esteemed defenders of esteemed traditions? Could it be?
To not believe Jesus would be difficult. Truth in itself has power to persuade; truth spoken by the Truth is power magnified. Their hearts knew Jesus spoke truth but it would take courage to turn away from the way it is and its powerful officers.
This was much more than a dispute. Both He and they wanted them. Both the Good Shepherd and the hirelings demanded their obedience, their loyalty, their hearts. The Shepherd had come to set them free, to bring them into the Father’s joy, to share His kingdom. “He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.” (Is.40:11) Adversely, the hirelings fleeced the sheep, making them disciples after themselves.
The real issue was lordship.
The heart and theme of this book is lordship. Jesus said we know we love Him if we obey His commandments. But is it always the precepts of God that we are obeying? Have you, those of you in evangelical affiliations, sinned the sin of presumption? Have you given loyalty to the way it is simply because it is the way it is? All must check it out with the same diligence as the men of Berea who “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” (Ac.17:11)
Let us challenge the way we do things, the habits and practices we have taken for granted, comparing them to the Bible to determine if they really are the way they should be. Each church age has its dogma distinctions and each age has the responsibility to compare them with Scripture. Yes, it takes courage but the Lord will give grace to the one insisting on truth.
Suppose we were there at the encounter between Jesus and the defenders of traditional ways. What would we do? To choose Christ would probably upset our entire world; the neighbours might not talk to us, our spouses could turn ugly, we might be kicked out of the synagogue, even jailed or stoned. Would we lack the courage to embrace truth? Would we be like many (most?) in that crowd who would one day shout, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”? Or would we lay down our life and embrace the new life Jesus came to offer? Would we willingly suffer persecution for His name’s sake?
This book examines the way it is, the way things are done, loyalties and learned rationales in evangelical circles, and compares them to the Word. Yet that is not the heart of The Way It Is. It talks about relationships between shepherds and sheep but it is not about shepherds and it is not about sheep.
This book is about lordship.
It is about Jesus, “the head of the church,” (Eph.5:23) “the Lord of the harvest,” (Mt.9:38) and our relationship with Him. It is about taking our love off this and that and setting that love upon Jesus. It isn’t to add to our storehouse of knowledge, it isn’t fodder for the critical, it isn’t understanding to be leaned upon.
It is about relationship with the King. It is a preparation for the judgement seat of Christ, that day we must each give an account to Christ the Judge. It is about Him, our first love, the One we call “Lord, Lord”. (Lk6:46)
Please note: I was raised a catholic and departed from catholicism many years ago. Though evangelicalism and catholicism are poles apart, there are similarities in the way people relate to their faiths. Throughout this manuscript I will use the way catholics relate to catholicism as a mirror for evangelicals relating to evangelicalism. (In this book my definition of evangelicalism includes charismatic churches, as well as non- and inter-denominational churches.)
There are similarities within the several denominations and non-denominational churches that come under the term “evangelicalism” (or “fundamentalism”). And there are also differences. I must speak in general terms, fully realizing that the shoe, while fitting most, does not fit every foot. Perhaps there is not one statement I make regarding evangelicalism that is true for every situation. As I write I can ‘hear’ some readers saying, “No, that’s not the way it is in my church!” and others thinking, “Right on!” Evangelicalism is complex and varied, but there are similarities woven throughout. The generalities I use are a general reality relevant to all.
Please note: I give some references to quoted verses, but not all. Simply type in a few words on your online Bible to find chapter and verse. I identify all translations that are not NKJV.