The Seven Last Words of the Church
“Jesus said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” – Mark 7:6-8
Some of the scribes and Pharisees questioned Jesus as to why his disciples had not washed their hands before eating, as was “the custom of the elders.” He chastised them for their slavish devotion to custom, while neglecting their relationship with God.
Our customs and traditions are important for institutional continuity and for doing things in the church “decently and in order.” But customs followed for their own sake can stifle needed change and quench the flame of the Spirit.
A pastor friend of mine once told me about being in a church meeting. He said, “I knew it was time for me to move on when I heard someone say, ‘We’ve never done it that way before,’ and I realized it was me!”
Early in my ministry I was told that “We’ve never done it that way before” were the “seven last words of the church.”
The church is gathered to hear God’s life-giving promises and the Good News of God’s great love for us in Jesus Christ. But sometimes we get diverted from our true focus, and become bogged down by ephemera such as the placement of the chancel furniture, the color of the hymnal covers, or the method of serving communion. God, have mercy!
Living and loving God, never let our customs and traditions become more important to us than you. Turn us again to your love, through Jesus Christ our Savior.
Richard L. Floyd is Pastor Emeritus of First Church of Christ (UCC) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. A writer and author, his most recent publications are Romans, Parts 1 and 2 (with Michael S. Bennett), new titles in the “Listen Up!” Bible Study Series. He blogs at richardlfloyd.com.